Story and photos by Julia Turnbull
The Lázaro Bautista sisters, Lucila, Josefina, and Silvia, have been working with En Vía since the organization began offering interest free microloans in Teotitlán del Valle. They are all part of the same borrowing group, and each sister brings her own business ideas and energy to the group. When twelve of us visited their family home and workshop this past Saturday afternoon, we saw how these women have worked together to turn their art, ideas, and everyday cooking skills into businesses that generate steady income. The three sisters are from a family of weavers, and they are managing to continue weaving tapetes (rugs), their passion, while also starting new businesses at a time when tapete sales are slow.
Josefina purchases raw wool, which she then washes, cleans, spins into thread, dyes, and sells by the kilo to other weavers, including one of her sisters. Josefina uses natural dyes to color the wool, which are preferred by many of Teotitlán’s weavers. This aspect of working with wool is labor intensive, and takes up a significant amount of time. Many weavers prefer to buy yarn already cleaned and dyed, so they can devote their energies to weaving. With her loans, Josefina can buy a larger quantity of wool, wood for the fires to make the dyes, and the materials she needs to prepare the dyes such as indigo, alfalfa, and pomegranate. Josefina, who is about to borrow her fifth loan, has created a niche for herself in the local weaving market.
Lucila is a true entrepreneur. She weaves in her spare time, which she has little of because she has four other businesses. Her first loan went for the iron press used to flatten dough into obleas, the flat, sweet wafers that go well with a hot chocolate. Lucila used her second loan for a metate, a stone device on which corn is ground into meal, and a comal, upon which tortillas and tostadas are made. With her third loan, Lucila purchased a large pot for making fresh tamales, a delicious mixtures of corn meal, chicken, and sauces cooked inside of cornhusks or banana leaves. Lucila is now planning to use her fourth loan to buy cloth and thread so that she can sew blouses featuring traditional embroidery patterns. Lucila and Silvia have a stall near the center of town, where they sell their handmade textiles. Lucila said that having so many businesses ensures a steady stream of income with which she can take care of her two daughters, who are getting ready for first and third grade.
Silvia is a weaver. She enjoys drawing her own designs, and is experimenting with rugs that display figures from the ancient Zapotec legends, such as a jaguar or a butterfly turning into a woman. Recently, she tells us, the tapetes with single figures have been out-selling both the traditional geometric patterns of mountains and valleys and the customary diamond of Oaxaca. However, Silvia has discovered that what sells the most are purses, so she is weaving unique combinations of colors and stripes to make material for bags. She also sews linings and zippers into the bags, and then attaches either braided wool or leather shoulder straps. As rug sales decline, she tells us, she must find a way to use her family’s resources to make goods that are selling in the local market.
With interest-free loans from En Vía, these three sisters have combined their knowledge with work ethic to improve their livelihoods. With their collective business sense, Josefina, Lucila, and Silvia have found ways to adapt their income generating projects to changes in the local economy as well as changes in consumer preference.