Fierce

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

Instagram / @mercedessalazar

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.

Colombia Is On Alert After Six Candidates Running For Mayor Have Been Murdered In The Past Six Weeks

Things That Matter

Colombia Is On Alert After Six Candidates Running For Mayor Have Been Murdered In The Past Six Weeks

Stern / Instagram

Yesterday saw police in Colombia arrest two people in connection to the death of Orley García, the mayoral candidate for the municipality of Toledo. But the wildest thing is that García isn’t the first mayoral candidate to have been killed this election cycle in Colombia. In fact, he’s actually the sixth

The most heartbreaking death was that of Karina García.

Pinterest / The Guardian

The 32-year-old was running to be the first female mayor in the rural municipality of Toledo when she was attacked. Following a day of campaigning on September 1, García was returning to her hometown of Suarez when the car she was traveling in was shot at, before being set on fire. Six people died from the attack, including García’s mother, three local activists and a candidate for the municipal council, who were also in the car at the time. According to authorities, a grenade was used in the attack. Somehow, though, García’s bodyguard, who was driving the vehicle, survived.

Before she was killed, Karina reported receiving threats and asked for security.

Twitter / @JZulver

A reward of almost $44,000 has been offered for information leading to the capture of the dissidents who were responsible for the murder of Karina García, who is survived by her husband and three year old son. It seems like a case of too little, too late, though, as García had already reported to authorities that she was on the receiving end of death threats. It was only in August that four armed men confronted members of her campaign, ordering them to take down banners and posters supporting her candidacy. García took to social media, calling on authorities to protect her and her fellow candidates against harm. “Please, for God’s sake, don’t act so irresponsibly,” she said in a video posted to Facebook on August 24. “This can bring fatal consequences for me.”

Authorities are blaming the killings on FARC rebels.

Instagram / @stern

And just who are FARC? The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, on the most fundamental level, are a guerilla movement that began in 1964. Motivated by Marxist-Leninist leanings, on paper they’re a peasant force that promotes anti-imperialism. However, what this means in practice is that they kidnap, ransom, drug run and extort their way into opposing Colombian authorities and consolidating power. By the time 2016 rolled around though, the group was running out of steam. This led to a ceasefire accord between FARC and the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos. June 2017 saw FARC hand over its weapons to the United Nations.

Yes, FARC legitimized itself legally but several dissidents disagree with that decision.

Instagram / @leperejulot

Obviously, that’s not the end of the story. Despite the peace deal, and despite the fact that FARC had officially announced its transformation into a legal, political party, there are still plenty of dissidents out there who disagree with the change and still operate under the original FARC doctrine. What’s most likely sparked the recent mayoral candidate killings is FARC’s announcement, on Youtube no less, that it’s resorting to violence due to the Colombian government’s failure to comply with the peace agreements from 2016. Of course, Colombian officials heartily disagreed with this statement, and responded with offensive strikes against FARC.

This has basically turned into tic for tac killing.

Twitter / @Citytv

And the repercussions of the violence and killings are far-reaching. Beyond the devastated friends and family left behind, this also spells trouble for the democratic process in Colombia. Because who’s going to risk running for office, if they’re risking not only their own life, but the lives of their friends, family and coworkers? And who’s going to even consider turning up to vote, when the candidates themselves are being murdered, left, right, and center? It’s hard to conceive of cultural and legislative change in a country where part of what needs to be changed is what’s preventing change in the first place.

The other thing to keep in mind is that this is the exact kind of violence that people are fleeing when they arrive at the US border and make an appeal for asylum.

Instagram / @every_day_donald_trump

It’s a legitimate fear: the operation of gangs and cartels negatively impacts on the safety of the citizenry, as well as influencing the way that the entire country can be governed. However, because US legislation under the Trump administration states that asylum seekers cannot be granted refuge against gang violence, it means that these people have no choice but to go back to their country of origin and continue to risk theirs and their family’s lives. Something’s gotta give – otherwise, we’re going to see a lot more deaths at the hands of these gangs.

At this stage, we can only keep our eyes peeled for more news coming out from Colombia, as the elections are to be held October 27, across almost 1,100 municipalities. Unfortunately, with the murder of the sixth mayoral candidate in Colombia, this marks an even more violent election season than that of 2015, which saw the deaths of five mayoral candidates.

Latin America Is Fighting A Banana Fungus That Threatens America’s Favorite Fruit

Culture

Latin America Is Fighting A Banana Fungus That Threatens America’s Favorite Fruit

Jametlene Reskp / Unsplash

Did you wake up and eat a banana for breakfast this morning? Straight out of the peel? Or maybe you chopped it up into a few pieces and tossed it into a smoothie or over a bowl of cereal?  

Or maybe your abuelita fried a few up and served them with some crema and a side of rice and frijoles? 

Bananas are a staple food item around the world. In fact, we consume around 114 millions tons of them every single year. So you can imagine why many people are freaking out over recent news that a banana killing fungus has taken hold. It could literally spell the end for our beloved banana. 

A deadly fungus has infested banana crops across Colombia.

Bad news for banana lovers: A fungus that’s particularly adept at killing the fruit has finally reached Latin America — a major supplier of the world’s bananas — as scientists long feared it would.

Recently, officials in Colombia declared a national emergency after confirming the presence of this deadly fungus, known as Fusarium oxysporum Tropical Race 4 (TR4), in the country, according to the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA)

This is the first time the fungus has been detected in Latin America. However, the fungus isn’t new — for decades, it has been devastating banana plantations in Asia, Australia and East Africa.

This is potentially devastating news because Latin America was one of the few remaining fungus-free regions in the world.

Although this fungus isn’t harmful to humans, it is a “serious threat” to banana production, according to the United Nations. The fungus attacks the plant’s roots and blocks its vascular system — the network used to transport water and nutrients — and ultimately kills the plant. Once the fungus finds its way into soil, it can’t be treated with fungicides, and it’s very difficult to remove.

So what does this mean for the fruit so many of us have come to enjoy?

Well, the fungus attacks the most commonly exported banana, the Cavendish banana. “For Western countries, the vast majority of the bananas we eat are from the same Cavendish subgroup,” Nicolas Roux, a senior scientist at Bioversity International in France, told Live Science in a June interview.

“What we’re having is an almost apocalyptic scenario where we’ll probably lose Cavendish [banana]” Sarah Gurr, Exeter University’s chair in food security, told Wired in an interview.

Also, side note, the Cavendish bananas which are what most of us buy in the supermarket, are literal clones of one another.

Cavendish bananas reproduce asexually, meaning that the plants are essentially clones of their parents. This means banana crops lack genetic diversity, and infections can spread quickly. That’s not weird at all. 

Virtually every supermarket banana in the world is a Cavendish, a strain chosen for its hardiness and easy cultivation. In the 1950s, it replaced the Gros Michel, a comparable banana that was all but wiped out by the soil-dwelling fungus Panama disease. Also known as Fusarium fungus, the blight blackens bananas from the inside out. Once it’s infected a plantation, its fruit is toast. Even decades after bananas have gone, the spores hang around in the soil, with the potential to re-infect crops all over again.

Colombia is just the most recent outbreak. This fungus has been wreaking havoc globally for years.

For the past 30 years, the fungus has wreaked havoc on banana plantations in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Now, Colombia’s agriculture and fishing institute has declared a national emergency after the fungus was found in the northeastern province of La Guajira in June. Nearly 170 hectares (420 acres) of plantations have since been quarantined

So what’s the plan? How will we save the banana? 

A number of ideas have been proposed to help save the Cavendish banana, including genetically engineering plants that are resistant to TR4. Meanwhile, researchers are trying desperately to find a new kind of banana that can survive Tropical Race 4.

Scientists in Australia have created a fungus-resistant variety using genetic engineering. It’s still being tested and would require government approval before it could be grown or sold. 

Other scientists are looking through nature’s storehouse. Unfortunately, 80% of banana fruits are susceptible to TR4. And none of the fungus-resistant plants are ready to replace the bananas that currently fill supermarket shelves. Most of them are cooking bananas, or plantains. Others are wild bananas with tiny fruit that’s inedible; the pods are full of seeds.

The hope, however, is that plant breeders can take these plants and cross-pollinate them, mating them with other, more commercially viable bananas, reshuffling the genes to create new varieties that are both delicious and immune to TR4.