written by
Sabina Negrete

Meet the Designer nourishing his People, Culture, and Garments with Natural Dyes

Fashion Sustainability 7 min read
Silk from San Mateo Peñasco. Photos courtesy of Victor Ramirez

Remigio Mestas is a talented designer originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, where he has based his whole business. He is known for only employing local artisans and using natural elements to dye textiles with which he produces his pieces. Creating masterpieces with the nature that surrounds him.

Remigio’s childhood was spent in the north of Oaxaca, he grew up in a community named Yalalag where almost everyone weaved clothes for a living with locally tinted textiles, including his mother. Weaving clothes such as ‘huipiles’, a traditional garment worn by indigenous Mexican women since the pre-hispanic era and most importantly a clothing piece that symbolizes femininity across all of Mexico.

A ‘huipil’ tinted with Guava Leaves. Photos courtesy of Victor Ramirez

Before the 2000s, this type of traditional clothing wasn't appreciated by the urban society, the only people who valued it were the same people producing it. Communities that had been passing knowledge on weaving, tinting, and textiles for centuries, Remigio even refers to these traditions as “a second skin.” The lack of appreciation for this art was what drove the designer to rescue it; Remigio suffered an extreme amount of discrimination which ultimately led him to decide what his mission as a creative should be, as said in his own words:

The work I’ve done is about dignifying the textile originated in the towns of Oaxaca. The goal is maintaining the identity and culture of these communities. This idea surfaces because during the 80s and the 90s, whenever we offered products and textiles to people who lived in the urban areas of Mexico they would say that the ‘hupil’ was for Indians. In the 90s the idea of recuperating and preserving textile from Oaxaca is born with the finality of dignifying it, telling the whole world that what we do is full of culture.
Carob pods being held. Photos courtesy of Victor Ramirez

Remigio’s community Yalala is a pristine natural environment, a place nourished by the people inhabiting it. The women and men there use pigments found in their gardens to tint their textiles, many people may not be aware of the fact that some of these materials are amongst the finest varieties of dyes used in pigmentation and textile techniques around the world. Even the Vatican used them to pigment their house dresses in ‘cardinal red,’ an expression deriving from the redness of grana cochinilla, a parasite that grows on Opuntia, when squeezed it releases one of the purest forms of red in the world. Besides exploring Oaxaca’s color diversity, the designer has taken trips to regions such as Tibet and India to extract dyes. Particularly Indigo, which he incorporated into his creative process and introduced to the local artisans.

Blue from Niltepec drying. Photo courtesy of Victor Ramirez

“We do not weave in bulk. We make pieces that feed the spirit”

Blue from Niltepec being pulverized. Photo courtesy of Victor Ramirez

Rediscovering textile traditions in Oaxaca, Mexico

When Remigio was a teenager, he took an interest in the arts and traveled to the capital of Oaxaca to work in an arts center. After spendings some years there, he decided to acknowledge his roots and start a business about what he knew the most, textiles and clothes. He continued on, investigating the theory behind the textiles he grew up around and others from different regions in Oaxaca. Amongst them are grana cochinilla, blue from Niltepec, and purple extracted from sea snails from the coast. The designer spent some time traveling the region to discover other plants he could use with textiles to create pieces, he was indeed successful and quickly incorporated colors extracted from certain types of flowers, moss, and even cortex.

Previously to starting his business, Remigio created a network of locals who supplied him with thread, textiles, dyes, and many other materials, he only ever hired families of indigenous weavers whose lineage began the tradition. By doing so, the designer reintegrated the locals with their heritage, unlike other brands who excluded them on the means of finding more profitable ways of delivering the product. However, everything surrounding his brand isn’t only about the past. He paved the way for future designers to combine Mexican heritage with innovative designs and new ways of using textiles in fashion in a sustainable, ethical manner. Remigio accomplished to create the perfect mix between contemporary fashion and the identity of communities originating from Oaxaca, preserving the essence of his culture.

Virgilio Arturo García Ruiz is an architect by profession and a master weaver by heritage; to this day, he has been weaving for 40 years.

Photo courtesy of Victor Ramirez

Creating a piece as complex as the ‘huipil’ takes a lot of time and manual labor from the people who produce them. One of the most iconic ‘huipiles’ in Oaxaca is the ‘Yalalag huipil,’ a traditional garment that originated from Remigio’s birth town. The process surrounding this attire is extremely complex. Typically, the ‘Yalalag huipil’ must contain around five to seven embroidered flowers. Each flower is made of a mix of different naturally colored threads. Before initiating the tinting process, white cotton has to be spun with a ‘Malacate,’ a tool weavers from Oaxaca use to create thread and yarn. The tinting process for the color blue from Niltepec begins by placing the blue powder derived from a legume plant and adding stone lime (the same thing used to make tortillas) into a pot. This mixture has to ferment for a course of just over two weeks before the dye is ready. The final part of the process is submerging the white cotton threads into the substance obtained, it takes around 45 seconds after the threads have been set to dry for the color blue to be recognizable.

The process behind extracting the redness from ‘grana cochinilla’ is completely different. Instead of using white cotton, the red dye is used for raw silk. Jute leaves and dry lemons are placed inside a pot with water, the water has to boil for an hour and left untouched for a whole day before adding the ‘grana cochinilla’. The silk is placed inside the pot after removing the leaves and lemons, this process takes around three hours. The day after, the silk must be washed and dried directly under the sunlight before the weavers can start embroidering. To create yellow threads, the same process can be applied, the only difference is that instead of jute leaves, guava leaves must be used. Brown usually takes the longest out of all the colors to extract. In order to extract the dye from the cortex, the same process as ‘grana cochinilla’ is implemented. However, after boiling the mixture, the substance has to fermentate for one or two months before it is primed.

White cotton tinted with guava leaves. Photo by Victor Ramirez
After the pandemic, Remigio realized, as many of us did too that what people desperately needed was to get back in touch with their roots. This notion made him reconnect with the color of dirt, his upcoming pieces are defined by the idea that the pandemic wasn't the end of normality as we knew it but a fresh start for humanity. The designer passionately mentions how observing nature should be appreciated for what it is, our home.

Agriculture has been a big part of the process in this new collection; Remigio and his team began to work in Oaxaca’s valley, harvesting and nourishing the materials used for the garments. Amongst the current brown materials, which include tree cortex and dirt, one particularly stands out, and it is referred to by the locals as ‘Coyuchi.’ The word ‘Coyuchi’ derives from the Aztec language of the Nahuatl community and essentially means coyote, this term refers to brown cotton, essentially cotton the color of the coyote.

For Remigio, This New Collection Embodies:

“The Return of Mother Earth”

Master weaver wearing Remigio’s garments. Photo by Victor Ramirez
Garments drying under the sun. Photo by Victor Ramirez.

Remigio has now been a successful fashion designer for over the last twenty-two years. Today his network of weavers is constituted of over 350 artisans from all over the state, creating pieces with the best quality there is of weaving and tinting in Mexico. His labor now consists of selling and distributing the work of the artisans in Oaxaca, Mexico City, and San Miguel de Allende, besides having a small atelier in the center of Oaxaca where his clients can order customized pieces. Some of Remigio’s clients have been buying his products since the start of his brand and are now important benefactors. The fashion industry has now recognized Remigio as a master of textiles, and various important magazines, such as Vogue, have given him credit for preserving this type of art. The culture department in Mexico’s government has defined him as a cultural promoter, always standing up for his traditions.

Remigio Mestas describes himself as the bridge between Oaxaca’s local communities' textile traditions and the rest of the world.

Remigio Mestas in his studio. Photo by Victor Ramirez

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