There’s nothing like the bleak post-holiday weeks of January, when you realize there’s three more months of winter, to make you dream of the island life. Palmas, piñas, playas – the whole thing. So when Los Tejedores came across my desk, I immediately perked up. A new project helmed by couple Ricardo Ariel Toribio (a musician/actor) and Natalia Ortega Gamez (a designer/artist), Los Tejedores is a line of woven hats poised to dethrone the ubiquitous Panama hat as the flyest beach accessory to have on your head. Think: el campo meets Pharrell’s Vivienne Westwood hat. Even Devendra Banhart is a fan, and has been photographed wearing one of their hats.
Linking traditional Dominican weaving techniques and natural materials with contemporary designs, Los Tejedores work from Santo Domingo with both Dominican and Haitian artisans. I caught up with Ricardo and Natalia to learn more about this fresh project – which also includes other woven products like bags and furniture.
What inspired the line?
Ricardo: The line was inspired by our life here on the island. Natalia works a lot in ceramics and she was looking for new materials to branch out to – ones that weren’t so heavy or so fragile. We live surrounded by weaving and were very interested in it. Los Tejedores was the result of that search. We wanted to work on a project together. I’m a musician and actor, and Natalia is an artist and designer. So we were influenced by the many different creative areas we work in.
Where were you born and raised? Are you city kids or do you have a connection to the more rural areas of DR?
Natalia: I’m from Santo Domingo and Ricardo is from Santiago, he moved to the capital in 2008 to play with Rita Indiana y los Misterios. But Ricardo’s dad lives in el campo, and he’s always been very interested in rural lifestyle, the artisans and the culture. We started to travel to the countryside together and that’s how we began meeting artisans during our trips.
Your site mentions you work with local artisans from DR and Haiti – how do you find people to work with? Who creates the designs?
N&R: We’ve connected with so many artisans just by traveling and asking questions, and by the simple act of living here and going to these little towns. For example, in Gurabo en Santiago, where there’s a long-standing and important tradition of weaving, we’ve been able to meet a lot of artisans. We’ve also traveled to the southern part of the island, where there are many Haitians, who weave with different fibers and materials. We connected with a Haitian artisan who lives in Gonaive and we’ve been in touch with him over the phone for the past year, and we also get together every 2 or 3 months. We communicate in our own kind of creole – a mash up of spanish and french machucao. We’ve worked specifically with him on our hats. With regards to design, we use traditional designs as a starting point, but work with artisans to update the colors, materials, and tweak the silhouettes.
What materials do you use?
N&R: Up until now, we’ve worked with palm leaves, coconut, bamboo, and platano.
How does your business model work?
N&R: We hire artisans at fair prices, and invest all our profits back into buying more materials and hiring more artisans to work with. We’re still a young company, so for us it’s important right now to invest any money we make back into the weaving, so we can generate more opportunities for these artisans and elevate their incredibly valuable techniques.
Do only sell locally or also internationally?
N&R: So far we’ve sold mainly locally, though we’ve also had an opportunity to sell in a Los Angeles store called Otherwild thanks to a friend of ours Macho Mel, who introduced us to the buyers there. Our plan is to sell internationally from our website, because we’re really interested in expanding the context and visibility of artisanal work. We’re hoping to have our online store up by summer, and will ship directly. We love weavings that are super lightweight, so they travel well and are easy to mail.
How did your hat find its way to Devendra Banhart?
N&R: Macho Mel, the friend who set us up in LA, is a friend of his and showed him our hats. He liked them, and she sent us a shot of him wearing one of our designs.
What are your hopes for the line?
N&R: This summer we’re going to launch some new products, have our online store up and running, and we plan to continue developing relationships with more artisans.
Stay tuned for updates on the online store, and check out Natalia’s updates on instagram here.