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.

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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.

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A Black Teen Earned Over $1 Million In Scholarships From 18 Colleges That Accepted Her

Fierce

A Black Teen Earned Over $1 Million In Scholarships From 18 Colleges That Accepted Her

Shanya Robinson-Owens applied to over 20 colleges and has been accepted into 18 of them.

As if that wasn’t impressive enough, the high school senior has also been offered more than $1 million in scholarship money. The 17-year-old Philadelphia teen currently attends George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science but is headed towards a pretty bright and educated future.

According to a recent interview with “Good Morning America” the star student earned $1,074,260 in scholarships.

“We are overjoyed,” Robinson-Owens aunt told the show in a recent interview. “I knew she wouldn’t have a problem getting into colleges, but we didn’t know they would award her this much money in scholarship funds.”

Shanya, who was accepted to Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; La Salle University in Philadelphia; Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri; Temple University in Philadelphia and Cabrini University in Radnor, Pennsylvania, told GMA that she “wasn’t really expecting it” so many offers let alone so much money.

The senior currently holds a 3.2-grade point average and is a member of the school’s yearbook committee. She also works as an intern alongside her Chinese language teacher.

When it comes to the advice she’d give other students, Shayna says it’s important to “take your time” with your work and the application process.

“You really have to be patient,” Shanya explained. “Stay focused. If you need to have some time away, it’s OK. You can tell your teachers that because they know you’re stressed.”

“We’ve always been extremely proud of her,” Shanya’s aunt, Christine Owens, explained to GMA. “My mother has helped raise Shanya since she was a baby. We’ve just been working as a team making sure Shanya keeps God first in anything she does and she is succeeding.”

Speaking about Shanya, her school principal Ted Domers told GMA that Shanya is a “well-respected student at her school.”

“In addition to being a part of a movement to bring more social action to our school, she’s involved in a number of extracurricular activities that show the breadth of her skills, from robotics to journalism,” Domers explained. “It is a privilege for us to count Shanya as one of our own and we are excited to see her create opportunities for her future.”

Shanya has yet to make a college pick.

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Once A Cartel Hub, Colombia’s Medellín Has Become A City Of The Future

Culture

Once A Cartel Hub, Colombia’s Medellín Has Become A City Of The Future

Medellín, Colombia was once home to one of the world’s most powerful cartels – Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel. During the ’90s, drug gangs and guerrilla fighters controlled the city’s streets and few people ventured out the relative safety of their immediate neighborhoods.

That Medellín is a distant memory for many Paisas thanks to the fall of the cartels, but also to a distinct set of ideals and values that have shaped the city’s development over the last decade.

Medellín was named the world’s third city of the future and it’s leading in so many categories.

Medellín is nestled in a valley high in the Andes, and many of the city’s poorest residents live in comunas they built on the steep slopes. And although the city still struggles with high rates of poverty, city planners are working to bridge the divide between these poor communities with little access to public amenities and the core of Medellín.

The technology that helped save Medellín is not what you’d see in San Francisco, Boston or Singapore—fleets of driverless cars, big tech companies and artificial intelligence. It is about gathering data to make informed decisions on how to deploy technology where it has the most impact. 

Where most smart-city ­initiatives are of, by and, to a large extent, for the already tech-savvy and well-resourced segment of the population, Medellín’s transformation has for the most part been focused on people who have the least.

The city’s cable car system is one out of sci-fi novels.

Think of a gondola suspended under a cable, floating high off the ground as it hauls a cabin full of passengers up a long, steep mountain slope. To most people, the image would suggest ski resorts and pricey vacations. To the people who live in the poor mountainside communities once known as favelas at the edges of Medellín, the gondola system is a lifeline, and a powerful symbol of an extraordinary urban transformation led by technology and data.

“The genius of the Metrocable is that it actually serves the poor and integrates them into the city, gives them access to jobs and other opportunities,” says Julio Dávila, a Colombian urban planner at University College London. “Nobody had ever done that before.” As people of all classes started using the cars to visit “bad” neighborhoods, they became invested in their city’s fate, heralding a decade of some of the world’s most innovative urban planning

Designers have created safe spaces for all with parks and libraries.

The Metrocable succeeded in connecting Medellín’s poorest neighborhoods to the rest of the city – but where would they hang out? This lead to the construction of five libraries sprinkled throughout Medellín, all surrounded by beautiful greenery. These “library-parks” were among the first safe public spaces many neighborhoods had ever seen. 

The key ingredient of Medellín’s transformation, experts agree, is perspective: The city looked beyond technology as an end in itself. Instead, it found ways to integrate technological and social change into an overall improvement in daily life that was felt in all corners of the city—and especially where improvement was most needed. “Medellín’s vision of itself as a smart city broke from the usual paradigms of hyper-modernization and automation,” says Robert Ng Henao, an economist who heads a smart-city department at the University of Medellín.

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