Slow fashion is the jam of Wandering Heart. Where each piece is slow-made, in limited runs of bespoke garments that make them “that” little more special. A collaborative creation process, inclusive of the talented artisans ending in a fusion of traditional techniques with modern designs. Handmade clothing, accessories and homewares from Mexico and Guatemala to celebrate tradition and culture
We interview Renee the founder of Wandering Heart. She takes us on a journey to Central America where the artisans are creating clothing and accessories following the traditional techniques. Enjoy the conversation… and let your heart wander.
What was the tipping point to start this brand?
The development of Wandering Heart was a slow-burning idea. In 2015, with a background in community development, I left my position working with aboriginal communities in central Australia and (quite unexpectedly) ended up volunteering as a photographer for a women’s development organisation in Mexico. During my time as a volunteer, two things happened – firstly, I became aware of the Fashion Revolution movement and the ‘Who Made My Clothes’ campaign. I met a group of women that had started a community project, in partnership with a local university, to produce their own clothing range. They had previously worked for large fashion houses and been paid less than a living wage for their work, so with the assistance of the design and photography team at the university, had branched out and started a label which they were 100% in control of and for which they received all of the profits. This experience had a profound impact on me personally and was perhaps the catalyst that I required to start Wandering Heart.
The second thing that happened during my time in Mexico was that, as a result of the volunteer work that I was doing, I started to connect with a number of very talented artisans that were fusing their traditional handcrafts with modern design. I was inspired and fascinated by these artisans that were starting to look at new and modern ways that they could use their skills to create products that were attractive to an audience that was broader than just their local communities. I wanted to learn as much as I could about the traditional techniques that they were using to create these products and spent many hours in the homes and workshops of artisans in the south of Mexico to learn about these techniques.
Where once these artisans had typically only focused on weaving to create their traditional clothing, they were now creating bags, scarves, boots, and many other new products. The challenge for many artisans, however, is access to a consistent market as many communities are totally dependant on the tourism industry with visitors to communities fluctuating greatly depending on a number of different factors. Wandering Heart was born out of a love and passion for the traditional textiles of Central America, and a desire to create an ongoing pathway and outlet for artisans to sell their products to an international audience.
What is the mission of Wandering Heart?
The mission of Wandering Heart is twofold. First and foremost the brand is about both celebrating traditional craftsmanship, and by doing so, aiding in the preservation of skills and knowledge, and providing sustainable livelihoods for the artisans that we work with. We are a very small brand at the moment, however, as we continue to grow we are able to work with and support our artisan partners with more regularity and consistency. It’s also about celebrating slow fashion and creating unique and beautiful pieces that can be treasured for many years to come.
What does your brand stand for in the world of slow fashion?
Each of Wandering Hearts’ pieces is slow made – we have a number of bespoke pieces and all of our others are produced in very limited product runs. Slow fashion is our jam – we want to be able to provide the Australian market with beautifully crafted pieces that both celebrate tradition and culture and provide an alternative to mass-produced fast fashion.
The first time my artisan partner Gabino demonstrated the process of the foot pedal loom to me, I was lost for words. As his feet literally danced across the foot pedals, and his arms moved rapidly to control the movement of the crossthread through the opening frame, a beautiful diamond pattern emerged (the same pattern that is featured in our diamond dreamer scarves). The strength, coordination, skill and knowledge required in this process never ceases to amaze me.
What type of fashion does Wandering Heart offer?
Our product range presently includes both bespoke fashion pieces and products which are created in very limited product runs (which makes them that much more special!). In addition to clothing, we currently also have a curated range of accessories – scarves, clutches, bags and wallets – and homewares, however, the focus moving forward will be on fashion items and accessories.
How does the process of creation look like?
Our creation process has really evolved over time as I, and our artisan partners, have improved the way in which we communicate. In the early stages, miscommunication happened on quite a regular basis, however, I have to say that some very beautiful and unexpected products resulted from this so I learned very early on that this isn’t always negative and can result in some unexpected surprises.
Our creation process is quite collaborative – many of the products that Wandering Heart stocks are a fusion of both my own thoughts and suggestions and the artisan’s interpretation of those ideas. We also stock a range of products which are 100% designed by the artisans that have created them. Our focus is to create products that fuse traditional techniques with modern design.
When working on orders a 50% deposit is made to the artisans up front which means that there are no out of pocket expenses incurred when purchasing the materials that are needed to make the products. When we work on an entirely new product, this may require a number of different trial runs and tweaks to the product during development. At the end of the creation process, the artisans are able to determine the value of the item, and in some cases, the products are too labour intensive (and cost too much to produce) to become part of our ongoing collections.
What tools or and techniques do you use?
The artisans that Wandering Heart partners with use a variety of techniques which include weaving (backstrap and the standing foot pedal loom), hand embroidery, knowledge of all natural dyes and resistance dyeing techniques (known as ikat).
What type of inks do you use and how sustainable are these?
The women’s co-operative that Wandering Heart partners within Guatemala are a skilled group of women that utilise all natural dyes – the vibrant colours that they create are achieved using a range of plant-based materials.
What makes your art and creations different from others?
At Wandering Heart, it is the stories of our artisan partners and their creative journeys that inspires us and brings each and every one of our uniquely crafted pieces into being. We want to share as much about the stories behind the products as possible, so that, in buying a piece from Wandering Heart, our customers can be connected to the creation process. This means understanding not only who has made the item but the techniques that have been used to create the product.
What kind of artists do you get on board?
We currently partner with a number of independent artisan families in Mexico as well as two women’s co-operative’s – one in Mexico and another in Guatemala.
Do you work under fair trade standards? Any certification you may have earned?
Although Wandering Heart does not currently have fair trade certification, we strive to make a positive impact on the lives and communities of the artisans that we work with by nurturing lasting relationships and always working to fair trade principles which are the foundation on which the brand has been built. We are also really excited to now be stocking a range of Manos Zapotecas Fair trade wool handbags, in addition to the Wandering Heart range of products. Our Manos Zapotecas fair trade wool bags are 100% fair trade certified and support over 50 artisan weavers in Mexico.
You are based in Guatemala and Mexico, how does a social entrepreneurial venture look like there? Do you feel there’s a change happening in the country?
I was recently in Guatemala and Mexico, and in Guatemala in particular, I was devastated to see the rate at which traditional textiles are being replaced with mass produced imported clothing featuring digitally printed traditional designs. The prevalence of these items in markets had increased significantly from my last visit to the country. This is just one example (of many) in which traditional knowledge and skills are being devalued and lost in this part of the world at an increasingly rapid rate. For Wandering Heart however, it is exciting to be one of (many) ethical brands and social enterprises with the mission of celebrating and aiding in the preservation of the incredible traditions from this part of the world. It’s also refreshing that, as a result of the increased awareness of the fast fashion industry, and the way in which some large fashion brands have misappropriated traditional artisan designs in the past, consumers are becoming more savvy to this kind of occurrence.
At Wandering Heart we believe that fashion does and can have the power to do good, and we love being part of a movement to not only increase awareness about the way in which our clothing and fashion accessories are made, but to work in such a way that both empowers the artisans that we work with, and really provides value to their skills and traditions which we hope will allow them to continue into the future. .
What has been the greatest success of the brand so far?
One of the greatest successes for Wandering Heart so far has been seeing the reaction that we’ve had to our products. When you first start out in any sort of business venture, there can be a lot of doubt in your mind about how your product might be received. It’s been wonderful to connect with so many customers and receive positive feedback in regards to our products and the story behind the brand.
Is there any advice you’d like to give to other businesses trying to make a difference for good?
Collaborate where you can! As a small startup venture, it’s easy to become overwhelmed – being able to connect with other like-minded businesses and build a support network around you can be the difference that’s required to push through the challenges.
If you could write a message on a big wall that the entire world could read, what would it say?
Every step you make towards change, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction.
Finally, where can we find you? Shops, online, worldwide…?
You can find us online – www.wanderingheart.com.au and at a number of markets, particularly around Brisbane, the Gold Coast and in northern NSW. The best way to find out about our upcoming markets is to jump on our mailing list, or to follow us on Instagram or Facebook.
Are you excited to know more about fashion and accessories made by artisans using ancient techniques? Check out Kantala, based in Sri Lanka, or Gold is a Neutral in India. Totally agree, just beautiful!
Is there any other similar brand you know or are curious about? Comment below, and we will make it happen!