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.

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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.

9 Disabled Latinas Killing It In Fashion And Beauty

Fierce

9 Disabled Latinas Killing It In Fashion And Beauty

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Thanks to ableist movies like “Me Before You,” “Split” and “The Shape of Water,” when most people think of disabilities they often associate it with all things depressing, scary or pitiful. Mainstream media  consistently portrays disabilities in a way that have led many of us to believe that those in the community only come with one story and one shade: ones that are depressing and white. Fortunately, the stories of the disabled community are so much diverse, they’re beautiful, fierce, many are positive and all come in the many different skin tones that contribute to Fenty Beauty’s existence.

Here are nine Disabled Latinas who are challenging beauty standards and showing the world how beautiful and diverse Disabled Latina beauty is.

1. Tamara Mena

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Happy #cincodemayo!! 🇲🇽 I’m Proud to be #Mexican!! So with that said, today is NOT Mexico’s Independence Day!! Today, a really important battle was won that led us to our Independence Day on September 16th! So it’s not Mexico’s Independence Day, today! Just for all of you who may not know!😉 But somehow this is a day that someone in the US figured out, hey let’s make a lot of money celebrating mexico, selling lots of margaritas 🍻 and tacos🌮! 🤷🏻‍♀️😄 So cheers to that! Enjoy today ☄️and be safe!!! Don’t drink and drive!!🙏 It’s not worth it! 😉 What ya think about this look? All my clothes and accessories were hand made and embroidered by indigenous people in Mexico!♥️ • OMG I forgot to tell you all the most important thing about today, TODAY IS THE ANNIVERSARY OF MY SECOND CAR ACCIDENT, in which I was driving! It was so bad that we dropped 50 feet, my car rolled over three times, that car is totaled…but by god’s grace and my angels watching over me,we all survived, my mom, @marthaelviap and my cousin @dayrarominna!🙏♥️ So today I don’t just celebrate, cinco de mayo, I celebrate life!! Because I’m SO so lucky to be alive so cheers to LIFE!!! • __________________ Feliz Cinco de Mayo, a los que lo celebran! Yo sé que en #Mexico no se celebra tanto como en E.U. Pero bueno cómo orgullosa Mexicana, les comparto esta foto!🇲🇽♥️ A celebrar! Pero si tomas, no manejes por favor!🙏 No vale la Pena 😉 Bendiciones! Les gusta este look? con ropa típica y accesorios hechos a mano por nuestros paisanos de #oaxaca! ♥️ • Chicos me olvidé de compartirles lo más importante de este día, HOY ES EL ANIVERSARIO DE MI SEGUNDO ACCIDENTE DE CARRO, en el cual yo estaba manejando! Fue horrible, tanto que nos caímos a un barranco y mi carro se volcó tres veces, caímos 50 pies y ese carro fue perdida total…Pero por la gracia de Dios y nuestros ángeles que nos estaban cuidando, todas sobrevivimos mi mamá, @marthaelviap y mi prima, @dayrarominna!🙏♥️ Así es que hoy no sólo celebró el “5 de Mayo” CELEBRÓ La VIDA!! Porque soy MUY afortunada en estar VIVA después de ese accidente, así es que salud por la vida!!! 🙌

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Born and raised in Leon, Mexico, Mena immigrated to the United States at 13. The bilingual motivational speaker, actress, and model advocates for disability rights by frequently sharing her experiences on Instagram. When Tamara was 19, she suffered a car accident that left her paralyzed from the mid-chest down. The accident also caused the death of her boyfriend. In the years following the incident, Tamara has worked as a public speaker and encouraged others in the community on how to thrive in the face of a derailment. She participated in the famous beauty pageant Nuestra Belleza Latina as the first woman to be in a wheelchair in the competition and is one of the first Disabled talents to work with Ipsy. These days, she continues to use her voice and style to show young Disabled Latinas that they can achieve their dreams.

2. Jillian Mercado

This Disabled Afro-Latina has been killing it on the runway and in front of the camera since her modeling career took off when she landed an ad campaign with Diesel Jeans. Born with muscular dystrophy, a genetic disease that causes progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass, Jillian has used her voice to highlight how she and others have grown up with a severe lack of disabled representation in the fashion world. Since this New York Based Dominicana’s ad with Diesel Jeans, she has been signed with IMG models and has worked with Target and other large major brands. She’s definitely one to keep an eye on in the fashion world.

3. Marimar Quiroa

This Selona/Latina is killing the makeup game on Instagram and YouTube with her vibrant use of eyeshadows to create signature looks. Marimar is a 23-year-old Latina born with a facial tumor called “Cystic Hygroma.” She uses sign language to communicate with her followers on YouTube and Instagram and spreads a message to others to embrace their beauty. Growing up Marimar felt she needed to hide her face but after discovering makeup, she has embraced her features and found a passion in being a makeup artist.

4. Christina Feliz

Christina Feliz Martinez is a makeup artist and professional model based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Inspire by her Latinidad, chronic illness, and love for makeup, she uses her platform to share looks that she creates that celebrate it all. Because of her chronic illness, she has retired from modeling full time but does shoots occasionally. These days, she’s mostly focused on her work as a full-time makeup artist who highlights beauty products that can be a benefit to the chronic illness community.

5. Dru Presta

Standing at 3ft 4in, this Puerto Rican-Sicilian model born with a form of dwarfism is on a mission to change the fashion industry one photo at a time. Dru grew up in Reno, Nevada where she experiences bullying and isolation from her peers. Determined to not let the ugliness of others affect her, Presta uses her platform to show her audience that sexy can come in many sizes.

6. Annie Segarra

Annie Segarra, more commonly known online as Annie Elainey is a Disabled Peruvian-Ecuadorian Latinx with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) which is a connective tissue disorder. On YouTube, Annie creates videos that bring awareness to EDS but also speaks about the intersection of being disabled and Queer. Their platform has become a safe space for Disabled LGBTQ+ to feel seen and supported. When Annie isn’t creating videos, they’re slaying on Instagram with their #disabledandcute fashion looks. Their photos show outfits paired perfectly with their mobility aids.

7. Jessica Ruiz

Jessica Ruiz is a Puerto Rican-Irish makeup artist based in Philadelphia whose main tool in creating looks for her clients is her mouth!  Born with arthrogryposis, a condition that doesn’t allow her joints to move “normally”, she learned how to apply makeup with her mouth by holding the tools between her lips. She made makeup accessible for herself and after being rejected by a beauty school because of her disability she said “girl bye” and began a career for herself as a makeup artist. Her biggest break came when she had the opportunity to work at the Philadelphia Small Business Fashion Week where she was the lead makeup artist for the event. Jessica is making a name for herself as a disabled Latina MUA, and won’t be stopping any time soon!

8. Elsie Tellier

Living with Cystic Fibrosis (a terminal illness that affects the respiratory and gastrointestinal system), this Mexican-French Canadian uses her wheelchair to show off her love for fashion and her personality. After finding clothes that were comfortable and made her feel good while being in her chair, she began painting her wheels with pictures of galaxies and flowers to match her aesthetics. She uses her mobility aid as a fashion statement that challenges society’s absurd beauty standards. Tellier has said that her big goal is to see fashion brands make fashion accessible for those who use aids like wheelchairs, crutches, canes etc.

9. Giovanna “Gigi” Giscome

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This Afro-Latina from New York City and based in San Francisco Bay Area combines her love for fashion and modeling with her disability rights activism. Gigi has said that as she was growing up her parents taught her to love her disability but she soon noticed that that outside of her family atmosphere often revealed how uncomfortable they were with her disability. While she personally felt fine about being disabled she knew she wanted to change the mindset of others and did so with the help of fashion. Modeling and becoming a fashionista is Gigi’s way of fighting beauty standards which typically only showcase white, able models. Her fashion choices make a statement that both she and her disability are beautiful. Her photos show that she can bring it when it comes to high fashion with jaw-dropping looks.

I Just Got Back From A Trip To Colombia And This Is Why It’s As Amazing As Everyone Says It Is

Culture

I Just Got Back From A Trip To Colombia And This Is Why It’s As Amazing As Everyone Says It Is

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Thanks to popular Netflix series that shall remain nameless, Colombia often conjures up images of drug cartel violence and kidnappings or extravagant lifestyles of those same cartels leaders. It was also ravaged by civil war for more than 30 years leaving tourism basically non-existent.

However, within just the last five years, Colombia has seen an increase in foreign travels of more than 45% and it now rates as one of the most visited countries in South America. The country is rapidly establishing itself as a major tourist destination, with Caribbean coastline, rainforest, endangered animals, unique ecosystems and the Andes mountain range. It has something for everyone, and unique experiences as well as unique landscapes. Here are 13 good reasons to visit Colombia.

It’s home to incredible biodiversity

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Colombia is considered one of the world’s ‘megadiverse’ countries. The Andes mountain range runs through the country, creating three connecting mountain ranges, with Bogotá situated on a flat savannah within them. The Amazon rainforest covers 35% of Colombia, and this unique rainforest environment is home to many indigenous communities, endangered animals and unique fauna.

And Colombia’s unique landscapes don’t stop at the rainforest. The connecting of two ecosystems occurs in many areas of Colombia, but the most unique is where the Amazon meets the Andes mountains range, creating a unique landscape at the Serranía de la Macarena National Park. Colombia also has two desert areas, La Guajira and Tatacoa. Colombia’s coastlines, one Caribbean and the other Pacific, create unique beaches, backed by snowcapped mountains and deep forest. Colombia is also home to a large páramo ecosystem that helps create rain.

There are countless once in a lifetime experiences

Credit: Carlos Andres Reyes/Flickr

Colombia is full of unique experiences and activities, with the biodiverse environment creating the perfect location for many activities. The choice is almost endless: whitewater rafting, rock climbing, abseiling, bungee jumping, surfing, whale-watching in the Pacific, kitesurfing in the Caribbean, waterskiing, horse riding through the mountains, hiking through the valleys, trekking through the Amazon, cliff jumping, diving on the island of San Andres, snorkelling in the reefs or swimming in endless fresh water lagoons.

The country is known for its warm, friendly, and diverse people

Credit: Colombia.co

Columbians have a great reputation for friendliness and hospitality. As with all stereotypes, you may want to take this with a pinch of salt – but why not visit and find out for yourself? You may find that you never want to leave.

“It’s ludicrous this place exists and everybody doesn’t want to live here,” uttered by the late Anthony Bourdain while strolling through the streets of Cartagena in 2008.

Diverse and delicious foods – especially when it comes to unique fruits and vegetables

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Colombia’s range of climates and altitudes allows farmers to grow a large variety of crops all year round, and the country is home to a number of unique fruits and vegetables. Colombia prides itself on its fresh foods, with restaurants serving home-cooked meals, and many homemade meals and foods available from street stalls or local cafes. Juices are popular, as well as rices, corn arepas and fresh breads.

When you’re there, these are the musts: Bandeja paisa, a traditional lunch of rice, beans, fried egg, avocado, pig belly, beef and chorizo; the Pacific and Andean cuisines in Popayan, UNESCO’s first Creative City of Gastronomy; and West African-influenced dishes of the Palenque people in San Basilio de Palenque, the first free-slave town in the Americas.

A robust and well-preserved national parks system

Credit: Carlos Andres Reyes/Flickr

Colombia has 59 National Natural Parks, which vary in landscape, climate and ecosystems. Many of them offer unique experiences for visitors, such as hikes, water activities and other experiences. All of Colombia’s National Parks are designed to protect the wildlife, ecosystems, culture and architectural heritage of the area.

Unique and exotic wildlife that can’t be found anywhere else on Earth

Credit: Carlos Andres Reyes/Flickr

Colombia is a country with a high level of biodiversity; it is home to over 10% of the world’s animal species as well as the highest number of endemic species. Over 1,800 species of bird inhabit Colombia, with over 456 mammal species and large numbers of insects, reptiles and marine creatures. The majority of the country’s wildlife resides within four National Parks – Cocora Valley, Gorgona Island, Serrania de la Macarena and Amacayacu.

Miles and miles of hiking for all skill levels

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Colombian National Natural Park’s feature a large number of hiking routes, which vary in both difficulty and distance. Hiking gives visitors the opportunity to experience the country’s unique landscapes and ecosystems, and to see wildlife up close. Hiking trails and guided tours are available throughout the country, with the most popular being in the Valle de Cocora and the hike or trek to the Lost City, an ancient indigenous abandoned village created in 800 AD, or 600 years before Machu Picchu.

Stunning classic and modern architecture

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Colombian architecture dates back centuries, with small towns and villages all traditionally having a plaza and cathedrals, many of them hundreds of years old. The architecture of Colombia’s cathedrals is beautiful, detailed and has to be seen to be believed.

While parts of Colombia’s big cities have become marvels of modern architecture, Bogotá, the country’s capital, has a historic centre that is home to many very old buildings on cobbled streets. Colombia combines old and new within its cities, and continually strives to create exquisite new modern buildings, as well as restoring its colonial heritage.

Fun and modern cities full of entertainment

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Bogotá (Colombia’s capital) and Medellín (the second-biggest city) are both up-and-coming conurbations in South American and the world. Medellín has created and implemented an extensive Urban Development strategy, which has seen the city completely change over the last 20 years from one of the world’s most violent cities to an award-winning centre of innovation, which is becoming a model for other cites around the world.

Bogotá is also developing rapidly into a major business hub for Latin America, and a large number of multinational companies are creating their Latin American HQs within the business district.

A frenetic obsession with sports

Credit: Colombia.co

Colombia has been gaining huge success in sports in recent years. The country’s football team is one of the best in the world and is heavily supported throughout the country. When a football match is played the majority of the country stops to watch and offer support. Cycling is another popular sport, with large numbers of Colombians taking to the streets and countryside to take part in long-distance rides or the city’s ciclovía events.

Thousands of years of recorded history

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Colombia’s history dates back for many centuries, with Pre-Colombian indigenous communities establishing themselves all over the country and creating many of the country’s towns and cities. Colombia has been heavily influenced by its natives, as well as by the Spanish, French and British, with many countries trying and failing to take control of the country from the Spanish.

Colombia is now turning a corner from its history of the last 50 years. Civil war has torn through the country, but in 2016 a peace agreement was signed and implemented, creating at last a positive and sustainable future for the country.

Hundreds of Indigenous cultures

Credit: Colombia.co

Indigenous natives live within many areas of Colombia, including the Amazon, Pacific Coast and La Guajira. Indigenous Colombians and Afro-Colombians strive to keep their traditions alive, with traditional foods, music, culture and events. Colombia has been predominately influenced by its indigenous communities and heritage through music, with many sounds and rhythms originating from Africa and being brought to Colombia along with descendants of Afro-Colombians.