How These Colombian Natives Are Bringing Handcrafted Bags From The Wayúu Tribe To The Masses
Born and raised in La Guajira, Colombia, childhood friends Laura McMahon, Nadia Roberts, and Zulima Anaya felt a strong desire to reconnect with their heritage. Building a relationship with the indigenous Wayúu tribe was instinctual, as Anaya was born in the ancestral region of the Wayúu. Her family includes ethnic Wayúu, and her knowledge and love of the region's tradition of knitting became an instant passion and thus Susu Accessories was created.
"We are from the region. Growing up, we've always loved the beautifully designed bags that the Wayúu created," recalls McMahon. "We wanted to showcase their craft and artistic creativity to the world."
The Wayúu tribe is a matriarchal community, divided between Colombia and Venezuela bordering the Caribbean Sea. The Wayúu take great care to preserve their unique cultural traditions and knitting is their principal economic source. They create the most exquisite and unique bags that no manufacturer in the U.S. could compete with. In their legend, a spider named Walekerü taught the Wayúu women how to knit. This knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation, representing an unbroken connection to the group’s pre-Columbian heritage. Knitting is an expression of the Wayúu culture. The fascinating designs result from their use of vibrant colors, unique designs, and complex techniques employed in elaborating their knitted drawings. Geometric figures symbolize elements of nature, like animals, plants, and stars that surround the everyday lives of the Wayúu. The greater the complexity, the more valuable the design.
McMahon notes, "The Wayúu are a prideful people. They value relationships. We don't bargain with them and we pay them fairly. The bags we sell are their art. It takes an average of 30 days to make one bag. They don't sell well in Colombia because they're expensive, so we felt there was a better market for them here in the U.S. We are members of the Chicago Fair Trade and we pay them more than a minimum salary. Also, 10% of our profits go back to the Wayúu community to fund improvements in areas such as education, cultural preservation, social work, school supplies, and food dispensaries. The tribe we work with have been taken advantage of in the past with other commercial pursuits who were not interested in relationships, only profits. The tribe is our family."