This is not just a jewelry label. This is so much more than that…
Biulu Artisan Boutique specializes in making beautiful classic Huichol art, jewelry and accessories which feature time-honored, modern, traditional-contemporary designs and here’s their story:
ABOUT THE SHOP
Biulu originally started with just Ivan and Lydia and pretty simple plan: design, make and promote Lydia’s traditional Huichol jewelry on Etsy, however within months the husband and wife team became overwhelmed and needed to look for help. Beading takes time and as orders piled in, there was no time to develop the envisioned product line nor was there time to rest.
So Lydia, belonging to the Huichol minority group in Mexico, began to reach out to her people while Ivan took things to the next level by ensuring the employment of the “right” people for the job…meaning sourcing primarily Huichol women arriving in the city out of desperate poverty from the villages.
While extreme poverty in Mexico is no secret, women arriving with no education (and often small children) are extremely vulnerable. As Lydia was raised and educated in the city, she felt obligated to help those she could so they both agreed to compose their workforce of these Huichol women.
Elvia, an extremely experienced beader who helps with everything from design to production; Adela arriving with nothing, a single young mother from a tiny adobe hut village; Adela’s older sister Yolanda, who was working 12 hours a day for $150 USD per month harvesting watermelon for export and their newest addition Florinda, who’s father is actually a chief but there is no work for her in her village made Biulu to become a fun and creative team with positive energy and momentum.
So, of course, I had to contact these awesome guys to find out more about the brand and their idea for this awesome shop.
Hey Lydia! Beautiful and so inspiring jewelry! And so incredible story behind it! Let’s start with the idea. It all started with promoting traditional Huichol jewelry on Etsy… But even before you’ve opened an Etsy shop, how this idea came to life? Was making jewelry something you were always interested in?
Lydia here from Biulu Artisan Boutique! To begin, thanks very much for taking the time to interview me and a big “hello” to all of your readers. I am very happy to share my story and be a part of this 🙂
I think the answer to your first set of questions is complex and we need to understand that I grew up learning to bead out of necessity and not because it was an interest of mine.
Like many other indigenous peoples in the third world, we (Huichol Indians) learn our traditional crafts as a means of survival and often it is our only education because there is no time for hobbies and interests.
So was making jewelry something that I was always interested in? The short answer is “no” because early on in life, I never thought of beading as anything more than a job…i.e. make earrings, go to the market (tourist or other), sell earrings for money and finally use money for life’s necessities.
Looking back, the real game changer for me was that my mother made every sacrifice possible so I could get an education. For me, this broke the cycle of subsistence jewelry making and let me focus on creative art and design, but that is another story and I don’t want to get too side tracked. Needless to say many years later, with an academic background in graphic design, that is how I got to where I am today!
While you could say that part
of the idea behind Biulu Artisan Boutique
is rooted in my early years,
the “full” idea, or concept if you will,
really began to take shape about
four years ago with help and inspiration from my husband Ivan.
Ivan was born in Canada with a mixed ancestral background including Metis and he always talked about how beautiful it was to see so many Huichol people making traditional crafts and supporting themselves by doing so. This was a stark contrast to how he described the economic situation for Native Americans in Canada. He explained that there, very few people learn traditional crafts anymore and that it was great to see indigenous communities in Mexico not only practicing but surviving by way of crafting.
You see, all over Mexico tourists buy jewelry but many Mexicans also support the indigenous communities by adorning themselves in their ancestral jewelry (Huichol Aztec etc.). Ivan observed that here, traditional crafting survives because there is still a small market for it. So the questions were asked “Could we make a larger market for it?” How do we get the world to see that traditional beaded jewelry can be just as beautiful and acceptable as gold and silver jewelry? Even more so, could we create good job opportunities for an impoverished people? …and from those questions, the concept behind Biulu Artisan Boutique was born.
The fact that you reached out to the Huichol minority group when you needed help to grow Biulu Artisan Boutique product line is just amazing. Can you tell us from your own experience about the importance of hiring indigenous people and providing more chances to those in need?
It wasn’t until after our second Christmas season that our business really started to be successful and at times it seemed that our name and products would never catch on. We had all the typical doubts of new business owners. For starters, our line consisted of both traditional Huichol designs and of my own “fusion” designs and both left questions to be answered such as “Will people around the world be interested?” “In what capacity will there be interest?” “Will this dream amount to nothing more than a glorified hobby?”….and then BOOM! Wholesale and individual orders started to pile in and for me the best part about it was that the majority of our customers were buying into my fusion designs. We had our identity and a focus!
So yes, in a matter of weeks I was stressed and beading 18 hours and while I had some part time help, all of my assistants wouldn’t stay in the city long enough because they were always commuting to their homes in “La Sierra”…where the traditional villages are.
So with orders piling up, I was desperate to create a team of people to help with design and production. This kind of work cannot be simply outsourced to factories because machines cannot replicate any of it so the only obvious solution was to talk to people from my community to see if anyone was interested in full time work. The initial response was to be expected from a fairly isolated group of people…suspicious and doubtful.
My search for help did have some positive results though and a woman named Elvia who had been helping me part time decided to leave her market stall to join the team and I think it was because she was in the city, closer to me and saw the potential for what it was. Having Elvia on board was really helpful but the demand was growing and we needed more hands to keep up.
That is when I met Adela and her little baby and meeting her completely changed how we look for team members.
Adela at the time was 19 and she had just “escaped” from a bad situation in her village. Extreme poverty had brought her to the city looking for any opportunity to work. Unfortunately, her story is not uncommon and like so many others, she ended up in the city with no money, no experience and no education. She was incredibly vulnerable and as it may shock you to hear, there are men than actually prey on these desperate women…offering shelter and food for “favors”. There is very little law or justice in my country so these kinds of things are quite common.
Now, I don’t know the details of her experience but Adela tells me she was lucky because before things got too bad she met a young Huichol man named Cassimiro and the short story is they’ve been together ever since.
Adela’s story moved us and motivated us to focus (but not limit) our search towards Huichol women…to spread the word that there is the promise of work with us. Our job creation strategy had become a moral obligation for both myself and Ivan and as the demand for our products increased and increases, the more of these “at risk” people we are able to create good paying jobs for.
So nowadays, through word of mouth, we often get new arrivals that get off the truck and come directly to our door. Also we have developed enough trust with some communities that when in a pinch and in need of more hands, we’ve even sent out huge orders to be completed by people that can’t leave.
Talking with our people, I know these jobs are making a huge difference because our people are sending much of their earnings back to their communities. Readers must understand these are villages with adobe huts, no electricity and almost no economy. There are some government sponsored schools but school supplies are expensive, food as well and medicine more so. In today’s world, a village without it’s people injecting money into it, suffers because the poverty is so extreme.
Here in Mexico, the average uneducated laborer makes around $150 USD per month, maybe a little more depending on the job. Regardless, it is very little and not enough.
We’ve made sure this does not happen within our group and everyone is enjoying a quality of life they would not otherwise, while keeping our traditions alive. For me it is a necessary and beautiful balance and while our success is nice, our greatest rewards come with news such as “I just put my 9 year old in school for the first time because we have the money” and even the latest news that Adela has enrolled and put her daughter in school for the following summer when she is of age.
If you’d describe the Huichol art in just a few thoughts, how would you do it?
Through study and experience, I have come to understand that my own culture’s spirituality places humankind with nature and not outside of it like many (but not all) large religions do. That being said, I would describe Huichol art as a representation of our connection to the planet and to each other. Through our symbols, much of Huichol mythology can be told and like all nature friendly spiritual systems, where a god has not been personified, our art is created using the elements and living things that we are regionally familiar with.
So in a few words Huichol art is a direct connection to Huichol mythos; the common symbols such as peyote are regional and I would also say it is ever-evolving.
Of course on a less profound level, our art is very well known for being vibrant and colorful! This is something that I always have on my mind when designing a fusion piece…I always want there to be a least a small representation of my culture.
Plans for the future?
Our plans for the future are growth focused. Though Huichol jewelry has been selling long before I was born, I want to take it to a whole new level with our traditional and tribal fusion designs.
People are buying into what we call our niche i.e. “Tribal High Fashion” and we’ve already been featured in a few fashion magazines. Needless to say, continuing to attract such high profile publicity is critical moving forward but I also want to work on developing line after line of incredible designs to fuel that “publicity” fire.
Equally important will be the byproduct of those efforts. We will be able to create more jobs for my people, improve conditions and keep our beading traditions alive. That is the real dream and I hope to accomplish that while doing something that I love and that we are all passionate about.
© Costy Alex Photography
© Costy Alex Photography
© Costy Alex Photography
The name Biulu, which is Zapotec for “Hummingbird” was inspired by Lydia’s late father Jorge; as it was his favorite creature. Owners Lydia and Ivan felt it would be fitting to both honor Jorge as well as the familial ancestry.
Biulu Artisan Boutique features a wide selection of Huichol inspired crafts but you will also find many other items inspired by many other indigenous groups from all over the Americas. These influences include (but are not exclusive to) Iroquois, Cherokee, Aztec, Maya and Inca.
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Photo credits: Costy Alex Photography & Biulu Artisan Boutique