The town of Comasagua lies in the lush mountains of El Salvador, a tropical paradise where wildflowers, fruit trees, and coffee plantations thrive year round. But in 2001 a devastating 7.7 magnitude earthquake and resulting mudslides leveled much of the town, wiping out the local economy and leaving many of its residents without homes, food, jobs, or any means of support.
A local architect named Ana Rosa Graf decided she could bring economic growth to her community by creating a market for handicrafts using the area's most abundant natural resource -- wildflowers. In 2003, Arte Comasagua started with a small group of women artisans determined to create beautiful floral designs and build a better future for their families.
Today, in a bright yellow house in the heart of Comasagua, sixteen women artisans have found financial independence by crafting stunning handmade greeting cards using a plethora of wildflowers, grasses, and almond leaves. After gathering and pressing the flora, they design breathtaking one-of-a-kind landscapes, nativities, and scenes of mothers with children. Perhaps best of all, they're able to bring their children to work and have become a true community.
For most, the income generated by their artwork is a primary means of support, enabling them to pay for food, housing, and medical care for their families. Despite the challenges they face, the Arte Comasagua community is thankful to live in an area that blooms with wildflowers throughout the year, enabling them to gather the resources they need without making a negative impact on the planet.
El Renacer Chalateco
El Renacer Chalateco is composed of six workshops in La Palma and Chalatenango. It collectively employs a pool of over 250 artisans that produce a wide variety of crafts, including embroidered clothing, jewelry, hammocks, bags, and wooden crafts. Acoproarte was created in 1995 after the peace accords were signed and markets were reopened. Artisans felt the need to open a store and work together so they could showcase all of their techniques as a group.
Their embroidery and weaving techniques come from their Mayan ancestors; the hand painting comes from the art movement founded in La Palma by Fernando Llort. Around the 1970’s Fernando discovered that a small seed had a white surface with a brown frame and he painted it with small colorful drawings. There, Fernando would start teaching the people from the town to draw and paint; an artisan movement was born, and La Palma went from being a mainly agricultural town, to one driven by art.
From there the town of La Palma became a tourist spot in El Salvador where tourists can admire the Llort style of painting throughout the town on walls, churches, fences as well as the different shops where arts and crafts are sold. Through their crafts, the women have helped provide health care, education and basic food for their families. They have been able to travel outside the country to share their art with the rest of the world.
The forests of El Salvador thrive with a lush diversity of native plants that locals have harvested for healing power since the days of the ancient Mayans. In San Salvador, Matilde Carillo de Palomo uses traditional Mayan recipes to create herbal soaps that soothe the body and quiet the mind.
Matilde learned her craft from her father, an herbalist who spent decades studying the properties of local flora. Their company, Shuchil Soaps, creates spa-quality products from plants grown on the de Paloma farm, including hibiscus, lemon grass, vanilla, and coconut. Shuchil Soap's products have been given a Certified Organic designation in the United States, Germany, and Asia, and a recent grant from the Humane Society of the United States will allow a new line of organic pet shampoos to garner a USDA Certified Humane stamp.
The company prides itself on hiring women from rural areas and paying them fair wages for the first time in their lives. Shuchil was committed to keeping their farm despite the constant threat of guerrilla attack, and a handful of loyal employees stayed on. When the war ended, Matilde's father expressed his gratitude by giving everyone one of the employees a piece of land to build on. Over twenty years later, everyone is still at Shuchil’s farm working with the company and living in a thriving community that includes a school, health clinic, and soccer field. Matilde's next project: training retired women in the craft of soapmaking to ensure their well-being in old age. "The elderly suffer from abandonment in El Salvador, and we want to help them live a life with dignity," she says. "We will also continue to teach pre-Columbian recipes used by our Indians and passed down from generation to generation."
Sol Azul was created in 2005 by Vanessa Mazorra in the tourist city of Suchitoto, El Salvador. Vanessa spent a lot of time with the artisans working with indigo dye. She learned how to use different techniques for dying with natural dyes, and developed apparel collections dyed with the blue indigo that she called “Sol Azul” (blue sun). She has always loved the fashion world and the moment she dipped her hands in that indigo tint was the moment she knew she wanted Sol Azul to be only about indigo products designed by her and made by artisans.
Sol Azul dyes fabric with indigo dye, and creates apparel, bags, home décor from it.
Sol Azul continues to grow and with it the women grow as well. Vanessa loves how every opportunity for Sol Azul is an opportunity for the women to continue with supporting their families. They work with passion and they love what they do, they believe that every piece has to be specially made to fit the special person who will wear it.