The Taller Lu’um showroom in Mexico City is deliberately sparse, without any of the full dinner table layouts or model living room arrangements we’ve come to expect in most interior decorating stores. The Taller’s clutter-free display highlights one-of-a-kind pieces that, while at times are deceptively simple, have obviously been created with a designer’s sharp eye and a craftsperson’s deep knowledge.
The marks of a set of deep chocolate brown ceramic bowls reveal the fact they’ve being hand carved. The abstract form of a beating heart has been woven into a massive cream-colored rug with what are obviously ancient weaving skills. The pieces are modern and it’s apparent that they have been produced and finished with an eye trained on the very smallest of details—there is something grounded about them, a warmth, an allure that mass production doesn’t have.
Beyond the surface beauty of these pieces is a collaboration that has been many years in the making. Taller Lu’um is a branch of Lu’um A.C., a Mexico City non-profit whose staff of anthropologists, designers, and artists has been working with rural artisans for the past 10 years. The organization’s founders had a passion for working with female artisans in poor, rural areas, which is how Taller Lu’um was born.
“We wanted to empower them productively, creatively, and commercially so we put together an accompaniment model that would offer all kinds of different workshops in reference to those things,” Says Alan Favero, one of Lu’um A.C.’s founders.
The first workshops were offered to a group of female weavers in Tehuatepec, Oaxaca, a Huichol community in Northern Jalisco, where the weavers were given lessons on business preparation, planning, and delivery using interactive, fun, and very visual teaching methods. Some of the women were illerate, some spoke only their native indigenous tongue. The curriculum that they developed (and would spend the next 10 years perfecting) has now helped nine communities to expand their traditional craftsmanship into units of indpendent production that reach an audience beyond their isolated communities. Lu’um A.C. puts artisans in direct contact with clients, whether it’s through festivals, markets, or direct one-on-one business meetings.
A showroom space in Mexico City was a natural offshoot of this work. The new store, Taller Lu’um, takes a fresh look at the traditional techniques used by the artisans that the organization had worked with to match them with leading industrial designers and create yearly collections of professionally produced and high-end interior design pieces. For each collection, Lu’um selects designers and matches them with communities where, through a series of workshops, they can dream, design, and build side by side, creating funcional combinations of ancient techniques and cutting-edge modern design.
“The mission is to work with the same artisans in each collection,” says Favero, “We could change up the entire concept and the communities where we work for each collection, but our real social impact would be zero. We decided we would work each time with the same groups and add new ones if, and only if, we had the capacity.”
Beautiful interior pieces aside, the fruits of Lu’um’s labor have created a better quality of life in the communities where the artisans work: children stay in school longer, residents have the money to invest in their homes, and many of the artisans have started their own businesses. With the help of Lu’um, a group of women in Jalisco built their own community center where they can work, sell, and keep an eye on their children in a single space.
As consumers, there aren’t many items that we can purchase with the transparency of knowing how, where, and by whom they were created, much less that 100% of the profits from the process were given to those invovled. Taller Lu’um provides that opportunity and opens new doors for collaboration.
“This has been a great way to engage with Mexico’s design world. On one hand, we want to generate interest in consumers to buy Mexican products made by hand, etc., and on the other, we want to encourage industrial designers to really turn their attention to traditional artisanal practices in Mexico and wake up to their possibilities.”