We have the privilege of introducing you to Catalina Suarez. Catalina's business is called Artesanos NZ and they are in charge of importing and distributing Latin American handicrafts in New Zealand. We had the honor of having Catalina at Pachamama Latin Market and since mid 2021 we have been selling her products in our store and website.
Hello! I am Catalina Suarez, a Colombian from the city of Ibagué, which is the “musical” city of Colombia. I have been in New Zealand for 7 years.
When did you start your business?
We started with Artesanos in 2020, we managed to register the company, but then the pandemic started and we had to put the project on hold. In October, we started to contact the artisans and organize the shipments. The first shipment arrived in New Zealand in December 2020 and consisted of Wayuu bags. By mid-January the basketry, ceramics and several new products arrived.
What products do you sell in New Zealand?
The products we have here in New Zealand are all unique and handmade. For example, Wayuu bags are made by the indigenous community of La Guajira, specifically the Nazarel ranchería, located on the northern peninsula between Colombia and Venezuela. We work directly with the women of the community, since they are the heads of households and the ones in charge of supporting their families. The women organize the fabric of the bags, each design and bag is unique, you will not find another one like it. They may be similar in color, but the designs are totally different. Each bag takes between 15 to 20 days to be woven, with 8 hours working days. It is a very handmade and intense work. Wayuu bags with special design take a little longer as you can imagine.
Photos: Women from the Guajira community weaving Wayuu bacgs. Photo credit © Artesanos NZ.
From the Guajira region, we also have the Wayuu hat, which is woven by man. It is a symbol that, in general, men use; although women can also use it too. The interesting thing is that the men are the ones who make these hats and sandals, while the women make the Wayuu bags and hammocks.
We also have basketry. We bring these products from the center of Colombia, from Guacamayas Boyaca. The technique used in basketry is from the Los Laches indigenous community, which unfortunately no longer exists in Colombia, but has left its descendants who are dedicated to carrying out this artisan work. The basketry is called Guacamayas due to the varied color, with bright colors inspired by nature. There are bright colors, earth or neutral. The good thing about this basketry is that it is very practical for daily life. Includes fruit bowls, fountain holders, cup holders, individual holders. All of these are made of fique and are naturally dyed, which is why they withstand high temperatures very well and are very useful in the kitchen to place the refractories or hot dishes without damaging the table or the surface.
Photos: Guacamayas woman and men weaving. Photo credits: ©Artesanos NZ.
How did you decideto start with this venture?
We started this venture because when I shared some of my culture here in New Zealand with my New Zealand friends, I had nothing to refer to. I only had to show them photos of the crafts on my cell phone. I couldn't find authentic handicrafts from Colombia to show or give to my friends. Sometimes they asked me about the bags, that I saw a girl with a bag or earrings and there was no one selling it here or in Australia. That is why I decided to start working with artisans and not only from Colombia but from several Latin American countries. We recently started working with artisans from Ecuador and bags, centerpieces, scarves and decorative items are arriving.
What difficulties did you have when you started?
The greatest difficulty we had was with the basketry and the decorative items made of chaff veneer, which are mirrors and masks. The basketry is a plant material and the chaff veneer is made of wood. So we had to investigate very well, talk to the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) because they are products that they do not know and they have to be sure that they do not cause any damage to New Zealand's biodiversity. After reviewing all the documentation and seeing that we met all the requirements, we no longer had any problems.
What do you enjoy most about your business?
I love participating in the markets or answering questions about handmade products. Each product is special and I like to tell the story of each product and share it with customers.
Photo credits: © Artesanos NZ
What is the next goal for Artesanos NZ?
We try to work directly with the artisans and avoid intermediaries so that when we make a purchase, the largest contribution goes to the artisan. Our intention is to continue developing these connections with the communities in Latin America. We continue with the intention of working with the principle of fair treatment so that the culture and tradition of many communities can continue to be preserved.
Finally, I would like to invite everyone to come to Tienda Pachamama and the website to see the artisan products, especially now that Mother's Day is approaching. There are many unique handcrafted objects that make very special gifts for any occasion and remind our loved ones that you love them. We also have jewelry, Colombian emeralds, and many other beautiful things.
Thank you so much Catalina!