Between Oaxaca, Mexico’s cobblestone streets, colonial buildings, and agave fields, and Chiapas’ lush rainforests and highlands freckled with Mayan archaeological sites, there stretches a strong, unifying weaving tradition—a common thread in the indigenous culture that inspires locals and global visitors alike.
It’s here that MINNA founder, Sara Berks, meets with the artisans working on her latest collection. To celebrate the launch of the Hudson, New York–based brand’s new website, we followed Berks on a recent production trip to learn more about their story and process.
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MINNA partners with robust, artistic communities in Mexico, Guatemala, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Peru to produce ethical, handmade home textiles that meld centuries of tradition with contemporary design. Long-used patterns deeply embedded in each culture are used as a jumping-off point for her styles—as well as her creative journey.
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Six years ago, Berks left her job in digital design to freelance, generally burnt out from the agency world and seeking a change. "I wanted to be able to see and touch and feel the things I was designing," says Berks. "I taught myself to weave, mostly to explore as an art practice. I really fell in love with the technique, the process, the fibers. My designer brain wanted to start making physical products, not just one-of-a-kind pieces, which led me to start looking into artisan production."
While visiting Oaxaca for the first time to take a rug weaving workshop, she met two families that she’s since worked with for five years. Her rug weaver, Luis, and cotton weaver, Arturo, are both based there. They’ve become family, and those relationships are her favorite part of her job. She was connected to artisans in other countries via social enterprise or NGO-like organizations: they’re partners that she also tries to meet to form a personal connection. Oaxaca, as the launchpad for her business, has a special role in MINNA’s story, however, and collaborations there are run a bit differently.
"Production trips are usually a whirlwind—early mornings, long, bumpy, windy car rides, multiple layers of language translation, colorful textiles, and the best food I've ever eaten," says Berks. "[In Oaxaca], I’m spending more time with the families...We drift in and out of working together, looking at the looms, looking at colors, samples, designing new ideas, et cetera." But part of the process is just catching up on life and what’s happened in the past six months, playing with the kids, and sharing meals.
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Production trips in other places, Berks describes, are more jam-packed and work-filled. In Chiapas, she visits one to two communities every day and works closely with production coordinators. "We are usually looking at new samples together, making sure textures and patterns are coming out correctly, and generally checking in. The face time is so important, and I think builds a better working relationship."
Berks designs each pattern and product based on how it will be made. With so many variables in texture, color, and material, and with looms changing from country to country, region to region, and even community to community, there are countless options to consider.
In exploring a color palette, Berks sets herself up with visual or technical design constraints before experimenting with colors in drawn, painted, sketched, or woven swatches. "A lot of my earlier designs were based on my woven pieces, and now I use that as a way to explore color and textural interactions before sending them to the artisans," she explains.
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Once a layout is ready, it’s sent to MINNA’s artisan partners, or it’s discussed in person to help determine the right materials. Berks may source dyed threads from a supplier, or choose raw materials to color with natural or non-toxic dye. From there, material gathering and the warping process can take a few weeks—and it may take up to three samples to get the design right.
MINNA’s new spring collection boasts new product categories in existing patterns, as well as an expanded color palette. The new site allows shoppers to pre-order bedding, for example, in an understated mix of stripes and grids. Rugs, throws, kitchen accessories, and other home items are available in a rich array of earthy hues and geometric patterns.
Rooted in traditional techniques that preserve crafts passed down from generation to generation, MINNA’s collection stitches together past and present, telling stories of its workshops and artisans from each country to a global, contemporary audience.
Editor’s Note: Take 20 percent off MINNA rugs and pillows with the code HOME20. The sale ends Sunday, June 30.