Fierce

High-End Jewelry Designer Launches New Affordable Line For mitu And I’m Ready To Whip Out My Card

Mercedes Salazar has always been fascinated by jewelry. As a child, she was drawn to sparkly gems and intrigued by the intricate stylings of indigenous artisans in her homeland of Colombia. Yet, it was the stories behind her mother’s favorite trinkets that inspired the jewelry designer to turn her passion for pretty stones and threads into a career and also preserve stories and culture through her medium.

“My mom used to have pieces she [wore] when she was young, and she would tell me their history.”

@mercedessalazar / Instagram

“I wanted to know the stories behind all the treasures. That’s what they were to me: treasures that connect people with something special — a memory, a special place, a belief or the universe,” Salazar, 41, told FIERCE. Today, the Bogotá-based designer’s brand of jewelry, purses and home goods intentionally tell tales.

Inspired by her love for Mexican culture, Salazar released a limited-edition two-part series of Mexican-inspired necklaces exclusively for mitú.

mitú

For series, the Mexican-trained jewelry designer was inspired by one of Mexico’s most distinguished art forms: papel picado. In the delicate form of decorative paper, Salazar designed three necklaces in the phrases Amor Eterno, Viva México and Amor. The second part of this series highlights some of Mexico’s most beloved icons, La Virgen de Guadalupe, el corazón sagrado and la calavera.

Salazar is so detail-oriented with her jewelry that even the packaging is beautiful.

Aimee Sandoval Picazo

Each jewelry piece is shipped in a colorful cloth duster and placed in a sturdy board backing that elaborates on what makes papel picado so special to Mexico’s culture.

“These sayings are inspired by the decorative paper that fills the streets with color during Mexican holidays. During the 19th century, field workers in Puebla imitated Chinese art paper to create this art form that is now known as a staple in Mexican culture,” reads the card.

As with most of Salazar’s jewelry, this collection — which is not sold anywhere else in the world — is 18k gold-plated brass and is nickel-free, perfect for people with sensitivities to metals.

Aimee Sandoval Picazo

You can shop this exclusive Mercedes Salazar x mitú jewelry collection here.

Started in 2001, Mercedes Salazar’s handmade pieces are fabricated out of materials native to Latin America and assembled through traditional techniques of Colombian artisans.

@mercedessalazar / Instagram

The vibrant, time-honored collections preserve history in their construction and spark conversations about beauty, culture and spirituality.

“Because the pieces are handmade, they are all unique, they are all different. They each tell an important story about the place they are made, the community of the artisans who created them and the way they live there,” she says.

In 2007, just six years after she started her brand, Salazar began building alliances with local artisans in indigenous communities throughout Colombia.

@mercedessalazar / Instagram

Currently, the brand works with 10 different artisans from the South American country in a collaboration that Salazar refers to as a win-win: the artisans learn modern design while using precious, age-old techniques to craft necklaces, earrings and bracelets that will be worn by shoppers worldwide.

According to Salazar, ancestral techniques are infused into many levels of the manufacturing process. Its crochet technique comes from the Wayyú indigenous community of la Guajira. The straw-weaving style stems from the Zenú artisans of Córdoba. The iraca palm-weaving originates among the artisans of Nariño. And the werregue palm-weaving derives from the Wounaan Nonam community from Chocó. 

@mercedessalazar / Instagram

“By making local artisans a part of the chain of production, we don’t just improve the quality of our designs but it also makes their quality of life better. As we get bigger orders, we need to hire more artisans, which inspires them to teach their family and friends and keeps these techniques alive. It’s a beautiful exchange,” she says.

And nearly two decades after Mercedes Salazar first launched, the brand has grown beyond its founder’s wildest dreams.

@mercedessalazar / Instagram

At 23, after studying jewelry and goldsmithery at the Artisan School of INBA in Mexico, Salazar returned to Bogotá and started Mercedes Salazar Jewelry, beginning with a small line of contemporary jewelry made of recovered materials, like buttons, leather, metals nuts and bolts. In just four years, Mercedes Salazar opened its first store in Bogotá. That same year, in 2005, they made their first export to the US. Currently, in addition to having five Mercedes Salazar shops across Colombia, including in Medellín and Cartagena, the brand has become global. The company is currently present in 19 markets across the Americas, Europe, the United Kingdom and Asia, distributing internationally through its website and retailing at department stores and online shops like Nordstrom and REVOLVE.

“I believe that when you have passion and love for what you do, the magic happens,” Salazar says of her rapid success.

@mercedessalazar / Instagram

Running a mission-driven, hand-crafted jewelry business hasn’t been without its difficulties.

@mercedessalazar / Instagram

For Salazar, the hardest part about building her brand has been finding the correct market for her designs. In 2015, for instance, she started a project called “Proyecto Peligro” that aimed to improve the lives of incarcerated men in Bogotá by training them on crochet techniques. The program was multipurpose. To start, the handwork, Salazar says, was meditative. Additionally, the designs they created — plastic ribbons that said “peligro” and resembled “caution” barrier tapes — reminded them and those who wore the pieces that the only danger in life is not giving people second chances. While the project was meaningful to Salazar and the men involved, she was forced to end it after a year and a half because she wasn’t able to attract the right market for the pieces they were creating.

“It was really difficult to sell the final product. I never found a real distribution market, and at the end, I had to buy all the pieces from the guys involved in the project,” Salazar said. “In order to keep this brand alive, sometimes those beautiful projects are temporary. That’s why I take really good care of the artisans I’m working with. I don’t want to repeat that.”

And she rarely has had to halt new ventures. With hundreds of thousands of followers on social media and clients like Katy Perry, Colombian singer Kali Uchis and Spanish actress Paula Echevarría, Mercedes Salazar is beloved and growing.

Salazar will soon launch Tropicália, a brand of handmade home goods like candle holders and lamps, which will also be created through traditional artisanal techniques. 

@mercedessalazar / Instagram

“What’s really important for me is that my employees and team grow stronger every year, I become more and more conscious of the things I do for my country, that the women who wear my designs feel free and special, and that we can continue to tell beautiful stories together,” she said.

Purchase a Mercedes Salazar x mitú necklace for yourself or a loved one from the mitú shop

FIERCE has teamed up with Mercedes Salazar to produce an exclusive line of handcrafted, 18k gold-plated and nickel-free pieces. Click here to shop.

Five Tribal Leaders Have Been Assassinated Across Colombia And The Government Blames FARC Rebels

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Five Tribal Leaders Have Been Assassinated Across Colombia And The Government Blames FARC Rebels

Tom Laffay / Getty

President Iván Duque traveled to Colombia’s southwest in the wake of what he called the “assassination” of five indigenous leaders. According to the Associated Press, leaders of the Tacueyo reservation were killed this week when they were ambushed by gunmen that belong to a faction of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (also known as FARC). 

The leaders’ armored SUV was attacked by a small group of defectors with hand grenades and guns who do not support the now-defunct FARC’s peace treaty with the government. The gunmen continued to shoot even as ambulances arrived to help the wounded. Duque condemned the act of violence that injured six and killed five, including Cristina Bautista, the spiritual leader of the semi-autonomous reservation and the top authority. 

The Nasa indigenous guard try to thwart the assassination.

The Nasa indigenous group resides in the Cauca province of southwest Colombia. When the Nasa indigenous guard attempted to stop a car for a routine check, a group of dissidents including a leader demanded to pass through. After a standoff, the guard alarmed other locals to gather. The rebels opened fire and used hand grenades to attack the indigenous leaders. 

The Nasa are semi-autonomous and administer, patrol, and govern their own region. The guard consists of volunteers and does not consider themselves a police force, according to BBC. They are unarmed mediators who carry wooden staffs. 

Indigenous leaders believe Duque’s visit is too little, too late.

Since Colombia’s 2016 peace accord, dozens of indigenous and social leaders have been assassinated. Militant dissidents have used violent methods to take control over former rebel territories and drug routes. 

In the Cauca state, one of the country’s most lucrative and fast-growing regions for cocaine production, 14 tribal members have been killed. 

“Our only weapon is our unity and spirituality,” Luis Acosta, national coordinator of the indigenous guards, told Associated Press. “[The dissidents] don’t allow us to control our territories because we reject the logic of war.”

Colombian indigenous communities have consistently decried the government’s complacency in what they say is a “genocide” where they have become collateral damage in ongoing conflicts between leftist rebels, state security forces, and right-wing paramilitaries. 

Colombia’s government launches a military offensive to detain the dissidents.

The government launched an initial investigation that suggested the act was in retaliation to the capture of three Farc defectors by indigenous locals. 

“Clearly, here we have a longstanding threat of drug trafficking groups, and of dissidents, who want to intimidate the population,” Duque told reporters, according to The Guardian.  “I hope to make some important announcements about operational capacity in the region and the capacity we will have to face these threats.” 

However, many felt Duque was just paying lip service. 

“The region where this massacre took place is a first-tier zone for violence, and the defense sector surely knows this but the response to repeated calls for help from indigenous communities has been far from adequate,” Adam Isacson, a security analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, told reporters.

Opposition politicians accuse the government of genocide.

“What is underway in Colombia is an indigenous genocide, and it will not stop if international justice does not appear,” Senator Gustavo Petro tweeted. 

While the 2016 peace accord was meant to end a civil war that displaced 7 million Colombians and killed 260,000, violence has become the status quo for the Cauca province. A residual power vacuum leftover by Farc appears to have causedconflicts over territory, drug routes, land rights, and resources where indigenous people are often targets.

 Just last month, Karina García a mayoral candidate and three others on the campaign were murdered. Since 2016, according to Colombia’s human rights ombudsman, 486 activists and human rights defenders have been murdered. 

“The government says the right things, but doesn’t do anything,” said Eduin Marcelo Capaz, an indigenous human rights coordinator said. “Duque will say whatever he has to to cover up his government’s ineffectiveness and disinterest in protecting us.”

United Nations and the Organization of American States urge Colombia’s government to end violence against indigenous groups.  

Last April, the UN and OAS urged Duque to avoid violence in the Cauca province as tensions escalated between indigenous folk and dissidents. 

“Dialogue is fundamental to attend to social demands and is the only solution that contains violence, alongside a focus on human rights, the strengthening of democracies and the rule of law,” the office of the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights urged. 

Only time will tell if Colombia’s promise to protect its indigenous folk is real because so far it hasn’t been. 

“People are being left unprotected by their government in an area that is being disputed among several armed and criminal groups,” Isacson said. “Colombia must prioritize protecting these communities, working with their leaderships, to prevent another horrible tragedy.”

Bogota, Colombia Just Made History By Electing Their First Woman And Openly Gay Mayor Claudia Lopez Hernandez

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Bogota, Colombia Just Made History By Electing Their First Woman And Openly Gay Mayor Claudia Lopez Hernandez

On Sunday, voters in Bogota, Colombia made history by electing not only their first female mayor in the history of the city but the first openly gay mayor as well. Claudia Lopez Hernandez won 35.2% of the vote (which equals around 1.1 million votes), beating out her competitor Carlos Fernando Galán who followed her with 32.5% of the vote. Lopez’s win is making international headlines because of the significance of the position–in Colombia, the mayor of Bogota is considered the second most powerful political position in the country–second only to the president.

Lopez celebrated her victory by kissing her partner Angélica Lozano–also a Green Alliance politician. Surrounded by her supporters, Lopez addressed the crowd: “This is the day of the woman. We knew that only by uniting could we win. We did that. We united, we won and we made history!”.

Lopez is no stranger to the political world–not only did she earn her Ph.D. in Political Science from Northwestern University in the U.S., but she has worked for years to fight corruption in Colombia’s government.

On the campaign trail, Lopez marketed herself as an “incorruptible” candidate, making her attractive to Bogotans who were tired of their city’s rampant corruption throughout the political sector. And it’s not only Lopez’s academic record that’s impressive. Lopez began her career as a student activist in the ’90s, lending her voice to a movement that spurred on Colombia’s adoption of a nationwide constitution. From there, she became a journalist, then a consultant to the United Nations, and finally, a researcher investigating corruption within Colombia’s congress. In 2014, she was elected to Colombia’s senate as a member of the Green Alliance Party. 

Lopez, who is a member of the Green Alliance Party, is considered to be “center-left” on Bogota’s political spectrum. During her candidacy, she supported advancing minority rights and proposed creating more educational opportunities for people over 45 and ramping up law enforcement in the capital, according to the BBC.

Lopez’s win is monumental not only for women and the LGBT community, but for those who a tired of seeing their city dominated by corrupt politicians.

In Colombia, political corruption has long been a scourge on the government. The country has an unfortunate history of those within power embezzling public funds, bribing officials, and attempting to rig elections. Voters have been vocal about their outrage over what they believe is a deeply broken political machine. In recent years, the civil unrest over corruption has reached new heights. In 2016, up to 16,000 Colombians took to Bogota’s streets to protest the widespread bribery of public officials. 

And while past political candidates have vowed to fight corruption through policy changes, the city has seen little outcome from these campaign-trail promises. Many are optimistic that Lopez’s unusual political pedigree will be the change Bogota needs to combat the city’s structural corruption. “For the first time in Colombian history a woman is mayor of the capital city Bogota,” said one Twitter user. “[She’s] the only politician I trust in this m***** country and yeah, she’s a lesbian”.

As for the people of Bogota, many are proud that their city elected someone who, years ago, would’ve been an unlikely winner. 

Many Colombians are taking to Twitter to express their joy over the election results. It’s not every day that history is made in such a monumental way. 

For many, Claudia Lopez Hernandez’s election is a sign of hope. 

 This is @ClaudiaLopez, the new mayor of #Bogota, kissing her partner @AngelicaLozanoC in celebration after today’s elections. This is a momentous symbol, a sign of change and of good things to come. That I have the privilege of calling them my friends only makes this sweeter.

Some people are saying that her election is renewing their faith in the democratic process:

It can be hard to remain positive about politics when we’re bombarded with bad news all day. Sometimes, all it takes is one positive event to keep us optimistic.  

Of course, some people believe that we should be celebrating Lopez’s stellar qualifications, not her gender or sexual orientation:

Although it’s true that Lopez won the election regardless of being a gay woman, for many, it’s exciting that she was able to accomplish such a feat without hiding who she is. 

And of course, many Colombians are feeling renewed patriotism for their country.

In the face of constant news about corruption, sexism, and homophobia, there’s nothing more refreshing than hearing a population came together, rejected prejudice, and voted their conscience.