The young Mexicans supporting artisans with innovative design

La Cosita Chula is a Mexican design company that combines traditional techniques with innovation

The young Mexicans supporting artisans with innovative design
English 09/05/2020 12:07 Mexico City Cynthia Villalón Actualizada 17:44

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Alfredo Fonseca, a young Mexican engineer, has inherited a technique that has been in the hands of artisans for decades. Since he was a teenager, his godfather taught him how to model red clay with his own hands and how to work it on detail to create unique pieces. This was what inspired him to preserve the traditions of his community and to produce high-quality Mexican products.

Alfredo Fonseca and Mónica Camacho created “La Cosita Chula,” a company of Mexican design that combines traditional techniques with innovation. Moreover, they support artisans and their communities by giving them dignified working conditions. With their startup, both youths take pieces made by Mexican hands all around the world.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Una publicación compartida de La Cosita Chula (@lacositachula) el

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They met when they worked promoting foreign companies in Mexico. One of their tasks was to import design pieces into Mexico and noticed that they were often more valued by Mexican clients than their own national products.

“That was when I felt I had to be part of the solution instead of the problem” remembers Alfredo.

 

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Mónica Camacho, co-founder of La Cosita Chula

Thu,s they had the idea of creating a startup that made innovative design while recovering traditional techniques used in Mexican popular crafts.

Artisans make unique pieces of talavera, stone, and silver in different parts of the country.

This initiative led them to visit Italy’s Fashion Week and to win Walmart’s 2017 Small Entrepreneur Award, but it also helped them improve the working conditions of artisans in seven Mexican states.

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La Cosita Chula has created over 100 works with a model that directly helps artisans to develop their workshops and train them while they get law benefits, which is something they rarely have.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Una publicación compartida de La Cosita Chula (@lacositachula) el

Supporting small workshops
The challenge began five years ago after they decided to create La Cosita Chula. Mónica and Alfredo traveled through Jalisco to meet artisans that still work with traditional techniques in different states.
 

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In San Pablo del Monte, Tlaxcala, they met Oscar Mastranzo, one of the artisans who work for the startup. He remembers that one evening, two young people arrived in his crafts store and proposed him to work together to create pieces that combine innovation with tradition.

“They developed trust; they made orders and told me about their project,” he remembers. That was the day they began to collaborate and their work and friendship relationship has been growing ever since.

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Since then, the workshop located in Barrio de Jesús, only two hours away from Mexico City, has become a key point for the elaboration of talavera. Five people work there. One of them is Nayelli, a young artisan that makes pieces to support her family.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Una publicación compartida de La Cosita Chula (@lacositachula) el

“We study the qualities, skills, and strengths of the workshops and ceéate a development plan to look for the required level of quality and innovation,” explains Alfredo.
 

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In Mexico, cultural activities are an important income for families. The Satellite Count of Culture in Mexico, presented in 2018, revealed that these activities employed 1,384,161 people, which represents 3.2% of the total working population in the country. This is one of the hardest-hit sectors by the COVID-19 pandemic.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Una publicación compartida de La Cosita Chula (@lacositachula) el

Although Oscar has worked his whole life in the elaboration of crafts in Tlaxcala, he admits that collaborating with La Cosita Chula was an experience that changed his life. “It could be said that we became professionals in arts and crafts; we are now able to sell to other places instead of just locally,” he adds.

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Alfredo remembers that this was the workshop with which he decided to start, he then began to integrate different techniques.

“This alliance brought something different to us: teamwork,” explains Mastranzo.
 

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In 2018, after winning the Small Producer Award, the pieces made in the workshops were chosen to be sold along with mass producers and that meant to learn a new way of working with a different volume.

Unique pieces against piracy
Among the products they have are talavera dishes, cups, and jugs, stone mortars, sauce dishes, and molcajetes; silver bread dishes and crockery. 

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Both Mexican entrepreneurs are concerned about the growth of Asian pieces that enter the Mexican market since they feel buyers do not find the differences between products, which affects Mexican crafts.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Una publicación compartida de La Cosita Chula (@lacositachula) el

“Unfortunately, sometimes Mexicans themselves don’t know what their country has; what we do is more appreciated abroad,” says Oscar.

Sometimes consumers choose to buy foreign products because they are cheaper than those made by Mexican artisans although the latter are of better quality.
 

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But piracy is not the only obstacle faced by Mexican artisans. The lack of dignified working conditions and the low prices paid for their products affect the production of new pieces.

Hence, La Cosita Chula’s business model consists of working hand in hand with the artisans that are proficient in techniques like stone, copper, and talavera, and to invest in their workshops while they produce unique designs.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Una publicación compartida de La Cosita Chula (@lacositachula) el

Unlike pieces made with other materials, the artisan explains that those made in his workshops have an identity; instead of being similar to others, each piece has a different dedication, care, and technique.

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The products developed by La Cosita Chula are certified as food grade products since the process and materials used in them guarantee good quality and food safety for the consumer.

Oscar says that it took him over two years to master the technique until it became what he currently sells, with more care and attention to detail.
 

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Although he had previous experience in crafts, he had to change the quality of his products to meet the standards of department stores for which he makes the pieces.

More ceramic, less plastic
The two creators of La Cosita Chula are part of an Italian collective that wants to ceéate awareness about the responsible use of plastic and to give priority to materials like clay that are recyclable and have a positive impact on the environment.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Una publicación compartida de La Cosita Chula (@lacositachula) el

“We are part of ‘More clay, less plastic’ which is a global movement that aims to reduce the use of single-use plastics and to turn to clay since this material can be recycled,” explains Alfredo.

As part of the alliance, they traveled to Milan’s Fashion Week in Italy where they had the opportunity to exchange experiences with other artists.
 

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“We were part of Mexico's Design Week by taking many Mexican products that meet national and international standards to assure the consumer that these are original Mexican products,” says Alfredo Fonseca.

Innovation as an identity
One of the major goals of these entrepreneurs is for Mexican crafts to be known in faraway countries. They hope to continue developing the project to incorporate unique pieces and techniques.

In addition to being unique, the high-quality pieces at La Cosita Chula bring Mexican traditions to homes. For instance, Alfredo has begun to design daily-use products with clay, in addition to making electronic pieces with it.

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The entrepreneurs remember that a mutual friend traveled to the Czech Republic and found one of their pieces: a tequila shot glass in the shape of a skull. The piece had the signature of La Cosita Chula and was made in Tlaxcala.

“Sometimes foreigners are most interested in what we do; Mexicans know very few about what they have in their own country, that is why our job is more valued in other places,” admits Oscar Mastranzo.

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