This primer outlines some of the towns and villages in the central valleys of Oaxaca in which to source and buy, wholesale and retail, synthetically dyed cotton and cotton blend woven textiles including handmade and machine made embroidered products.
The woven and embroidered cotton products include but are not restricted to, tablecloths and bedspreads, draperies and drapery ties, table runners and placemats, napkins, blouses and other clothing for women and men, as well as scarves, shawls, rebosos, belts and purses. This listing is far from comprehensive, and is meant to get the novice shopper in Oaxaca started. Huipiles and aprons are deliberately omitted from this enumeration.
Wholesale for Export versus Retail Cotton Textile Purchases
Doing business in Southern Mexico is vastly different from commercial transactions in Canada and the United States. Generally speaking, a commercially viable business relationship develops over time. This means that one should not expect to be able to initially buy, for example, 50 hand-woven shawls from a producer in the Mitla satellite village of Xaagá, for less per unit than can be purchased from a retailer in the main Mitla handicraft marketplace.
A rule of thumb is, time permitting, to first establish a social relationship with the prospective textile weaver and vendor, and then move towards dealing with purchase issues including price and quantity. The use of a knowledgeable guide is often invaluable, since hopefully he will have already established the requisite relationship, and can assist with logistical matters such as shipping, future orders and facilitating payment.
Xaagá and San Juan del Paso
Xaagá and San Juan del Paso are two cotton textile weaving villages located just beyond Mitla, along the popular Tlacolula / Mitla tour route, on the road to Hierve el Agua. Villagers produce mainly shawls, rebosos and scarves on shuttle looms, for wholesale to vendors in, for example, the marketplaces at Mitla, Tlacolula and the Oaxaca abastos market. But tourists who have the chance to visit a couple of family talleres (workshops) are advised to take any opportunity to do so. Prices will be very attractive, at least in terms of purchases for personal use or gifts, and because tourists rarely venture to the villages, they are invariably warmly greeted by weavers and their families.
Santo Tomás Jalieza
Santo Tomás Jalieza is noted for its cotton products woven using the ancient back strap loom. The town’s co-operative fixed-price marketplace usually has a couple of women weaving on such looms, providing excellent photo opportunities. Cotton items produced on the back strap loom include table runners with matching placemats, purses, backpacks and knapsacks, and belts of different qualities ranging from utilitarian sash style to fine collector quality such as those made by the Navarro Gómez family of Oaxacan weavers.
The stores on the streets around the marketplace also weave and sell the same type of products. However, they also sell embroidered blouses, dresses, skirts and men’s shirts and pants, and shuttle loom produced tablecloths bedspreads and drapes / curtains. There are a couple of larger manufacturers in town which make the fabric for these smaller operators to finish into their sale products. Mantelería Jarquín Gómez does a brisk business selling mainly bedspreads and tablecloths to restaurants and hotels throughout the country. One can attend at these factories.
San Antonino Castillo Velasco
San Antonino Castillo Velasco is located a few kilometers beyond Santo Tomás Jalieza, accessed by turning right off the main highway at the entrance to Ocotlán. A good place to begin is a short distance down the road to the village, on the right side where a sign reads Artesanías de San Antonino. The quality of specifically hand-woven blouses, skirts and dresses is remarkable. The store owners buy yarn and material from manufacturers in Puebla, to both weave their own hand-made creations, and wholesale to others in the village. For those interested in superior quality, not often found on the streets of Oaxaca, a visit to San Antonino is advised.
The City of Oaxaca and Town Marketplaces
Street vendors in Oaxaca offer almost all of the above-noted cotton textiles for sale, and their prices are generally attractive. Similarly, one can find woven and embroidered cotton products at temporary and permanent outdoor stalls, and in the various markets and stores throughout the city. Finally, the weekly marketplaces in towns such as Etla, Zaachila, Ocotlán and Tlacolula, and the permanent market at Mitla, are each good places to find cotton textiles.
Do not hesitate to place a custom order, leaving a deposit with the craftsperson, provided of course one is buying from a weaver through his or her permanent workshop. The craftspeople are generally very reliable. And of course using a guide to facilitate the transaction assists, and should be part of his or her value added service.
Because textiles generally do not require special packing, the parcel division of the Mexican Postal Service, MEXPOST, is a cheap, reliable option. A tracking number is provided. Alternatively, there there always the more expensive private companies which can be used either directly, or through services such as AREEM or Mailboxes Etc.
This essay is admittedly superficial and far from comprehensive. It is hoped that is does, however, provide a starting point for the novice purchasing cotton textiles in Oaxaca. Rothstein’s book provides a detailed examination of the work and families of some top Oaxacan weavers from a folk art perspective.