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