In Mexico, men embroider too
Oliver Teodoro – Photo: Berenice Fregoso/EL UNIVERSAL

In Mexico, men embroider too

02/09/2018
12:43
Dinorath Mota / Corresponsal
Mexico City
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The Tenangos are bright embroideries, drawings of flowers and animals

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In some places it's said that embroidery is for women only, that the needle, thread, and taboret are a task for her; nevertheless, in the Otomí-Tepehua mountain range in Hidalgo, this is only a myth, here men also turn fabric into works of art called “Tenangos”.

The Tenangos are bright embroideries, drawings of flowers and animals, the limit is the imagination. Men started taking part a decade ago.

This way, the hands that once plowed the land, that held books to teach in schools or drove public transport, have now found a new occupation in San Nicolás. A small community in the Tenango de Doria municipality, in Hidalgo.

San Nicolás has around 2,5000 indigenous inhabitants; at least half of them have emigrated to the US and the other half embroider creations, which have been copied by national and international companies.

No one knows how did this art began in the are, some say it dates back to cave paintings found in the El Cirio hill.

What is a reality is that women began embroidering in this community and today 95 have joined them, mostly young men, although there are adults who left their former jobs make a living by embroidering. Men have been supported by women, and they calculate that in 10 years the population dedicated to this will be mostly male.

Passion for embroidery

Oliver Teodoro, a 27-year-old, is among these artisans. He created a sweater that became famous, after Mango, the Spanish clothing brand, plagiarized his design. His dream is to study Fashion Design, but poverty, he says, only allowed him to attend secondary school. He says that his mother taught him how to embroider since he was a kid: “One day she got mad at me because I wasted my notebooks by drawing on them, so she gave me a piece of fabric and taught me how to embroider”. He hasn't put the needle down since then, “Now there are more men who work in embroidery and its normal. No one has ever made fun of me, but I know that in other places this is disapproved of, mostly among young people like myself”.

This young man employs 25 women who embroider the designs he creates, among them a wedding dress, one for a sweet 15, sweaters, t-shirts, caps, shoes, tops, and shirts.

He says that conditions have changed in time, 8 years ago they had been completely forgotten, and their products weren't appreciated. They made MXN $300 for a piece of clothing that took a month worth of work.

Today, there's more consciousness about the value of their artwork, but there's a lot of work left to do because the prices range from MXN $15 to MXN $2,000.

In regards to plagiarism, he says they are defenseless, like in the case of Mango. The company never contacted him, even when they accepted they had stolen his design he didn't receive a compensation. He never received support from the authorities, and the issue was quickly forgotten. There's only frustration left after learning someone is profiting off your work, he laments.

A new job

In a small workshop, there are a small table and two sewing tables, lost in the middle of hundreds of finished pieces and others still in process.

This is Bernardino Candelaria's workshop, a 43-year-old, who drove a public transport unit 10 years ago. He says that one day, his wife needed his help with drawings and that is where his adventure began.

With the passing of time, Bernardino became the head of the family business. Just last month he won a national contest in Mexico City.

Estanislao Azuara Chávez, a professor at the Universidad Pedagógica de Tenango de Doria, was also motivated by his wife.

“There are a lot of men who work in embroidery, it's normal because we're contributing to the family's economy, we support our families by doing this. At the beginning, there was a little resistance, because this job was socially labeled a female, but lately it has opened to men”, he explains.

Plagiarism

The Tenango embroideries have been plagiarized by labels such as Pineda Covalin, Hermès, Mango, Chocolate Abuelita y the publishing house Alfaguara.

The former governor, Francisco Olvera, has tried to protect the artisans. Currently, according to the Sedesol, Kenia Montiel Pimentel, is working to create a collective brand.

After creating a brand, they will have a legal figure to protect their intellectual ownership of the designs, created by over 8,000 artisans. They also had to fight to make clear that the origin of the Tenangos is Hidalgo.

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