Sustaining a Weaving Heritage
Ali Hynek started Nena & Co. in 2013 in an effort to revive her heritage and culture. As her company has grown and evolved, she has created a circle of life through Nena & Co.’s Ecosystem of Sustainability.
Ali’s personal struggle with infertility led her to seek fulfillment in other ways. She immersed herself in learning about her Guatemalan heritage, which sparked the idea to repurpose vintage huipiles (traditional tops worn by natives of Guatemala) and turn them into high quality handbags that would be versatile enough to transition from everyday use to an evening out!
To make this vision come to life, Ali turned to her Guatemalan roots. She learned weaving is a dying art that the economy was failing to sustain. The Guatemalan master weavers were being forced to find alternative work to support their families even though they had an irreplaceable skill set. These master weavers take pride in their pieces. Weaving allows them to tell stories, express themselves, and keep traditions alive. The weavers’ plight tugged on Ali’s heartstrings. She realized that her idea would rejuvenate the dying art of weaving while improving the economies of local artisans.
“I began to think of weaving like an ecosystem”, Ali says. “We can’t just take the old weavings from the past, but we need to replenish them with new weavings. We want to keep it alive.” As a result, Nena & Co.’s Ecosystem of Sustainability was born through the Artisan and Heritage & Society Collections.
The Ecosystem is made possible through our Artisans. Being paid above fair wage standards and with reliable workflow, many artisans have already been able to provide their children with higher education opportunities that allow for brighter futures. There is something liberating in creating art for a living rather than participating in labor-intense factory jobs. They begin with raw materials and hand-make each item from start to finish. The cotton thread is spun and laced onto either a footloom or a backstrap loom and then turned into beautiful fabrics. The process of weaving is focused and intentional. Leather workers then combine the weavings with full grain leather to create the bags. Due to the hand-made nature of Nena & Co. bags, there is an incredibly low carbon footprint. Sustaining the environment is a critical element of the Ecosystem.
Ali’s Ecosystem gave rise to the collections known today as the One Of A Kind, Artisan, and Heritage & Society Collections.
Nena & Co’s journey began in 2013, with the Vintage One of a Kind Collection. This collection is made from upcycled, vintage huipiles (traditional attire worn by women in Guatemala). The huipiles have lived a full life before being incorporated into your bag. This collection is unique because there is only ONE of each bag in the collection! If you have a One of a Kind bag, you know there is something special about investing in a bag that is as unique as you! As you shop our One of a Kind Collection you are giving new life to these traditional handwoven huipiles. We hope you acknowledge its journey and make it part of your story!
In 2014, we introduced the Artisan Collection. This collection of newly woven fabric is made custom using a footloom, and is created on a small-batch scale to ensure attention to detail and quality. It allows us to employ new people and supports the dying art of weaving, which is crucial to the Maya and Guatemalan economy. Weaving on a footloom is a lengthy process that takes several days and people to complete. Different people are involved in each step of the process, such as dyeing, spinning, and sorting the thread. Each artisan works with the same vision of what the final pattern should look like. After days of preparing the thread, it takes hours just to weave a single yard of fabric. The Artisan Collection is a way for us to keep this tradition alive while giving back to this ecosystem of weaving that we are relying on.
Our Heritage & Society Collection was added in 2018. This collection honors Nena & Co.’s artisans, with many pieces in the collection bearing the name of their creator. This collection uses a different weaving technique allowing us to employ even more people. The H&S panels are woven on a backstrap loom, which is a smaller loom attached to a post or a tree, and secured with a strap around the woman’s back. Since the weaver is wearing the loom, the panels can only be as wide as the woman’s hips, and as long as her arms can reach. This collection was created as a way to sustain backstrap weaving so that it can be passed down for generations to come. We believe by sustaining family traditions we deepen our understanding of our heritage, and help preserve culture.
Our mission at Nena & Co. is to help preserve the dying art of weaving. We want to encourage young artists to value and carry on the traditions practiced by their families and ancestors. Both the Artisan, and Heritage and Society Collections help keep the art of weaving alive. Without these collections of newly woven fabric, the art of traditional weaving could eventually die out.
We are replenishing the weaving ecosystem, by providing more jobs to different kinds of weavers, paying them a living wage, and giving them opportunities to use different techniques of weaving that can be passed down to their children. Each of our collections is sustainable in its own way. By using the upcycled vintage huipiles and commissioning newly woven fabrics, we are giving back and sustaining the heritage of weaving.
When you purchase a Nena & Co. bag, you aren’t just buying a bag. You are becoming an integral part of Nena & Co.’s Ecosystem of Sustainability. You are supporting the use of repurposed items and raw materials. You are providing a livelihood for a woman in which she can be a self-sufficient woman for herself and her family. You are positively changing the world.