Upcycled Couture Hits Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

During my recent visits with borrowers from Fundación Mario Santo Domingo (FMSD), a Kiva Field Partner based in the Coastal Region of Colombia, I was fortunate enough to meet Miriam, an innovative craftsperson, mother of two, and vivacious conversationalist. Miriam has officially been in business making handbags, skirts, hair accessories, and other products for about 20 years in Cartagena de Indias, but she has been honing her craft for an impressive 42 years, since childhood.  

One of Miriam's products and the beginnings of another

“Everyone in my family knows how to do this and I started when I was nine years old,” she explained nonchalantly. And Miriam’s family remains involved in her business. Although she sells most of her products directly from home, her 33-year-old daughter often serves as a walking advertisement: “She wears what I make and then her friends want to buy products from me. It works well.” 

Miriam showing off some recently crafted handbags

After chatting for some time, Miriam began showing me her collection and explained to me that she incorporates designs made with recycled tabs from aluminum cans into her traditional thread work. “I buy the tabs from the market, but if I see them in the street, I just pick them up and wash them really well before using them in my designs.” 

Displaying the tabs – soon to be artisan handicrafts!

Having studied Sustainable Development and being an enthusiastic “reduce-reuse-recycler,” my excitement was hard to contain. Catching on immediately, she excitedly exclaimed “Ah! You like this! You’re going to learn!” In just a few minutes, Miriam was giving me a simple lesson, pictured below.

The beginning
The process
The product - to be incorporated into a handbag
Like this one! 

I think it’s safe to say that me producing a design as skillfully and effortlessly as Miriam is unlikely at this point, but the opportunity to learn from her was incredibly humbling – and not to mention – fun! 

To support borrowers like Miriam through Fundación Mario Santo Domingo in Colombia, click here and/or join the Friends of Fundación Mario Santo Domingo Lending Page!

About the author

Abigail Bates

Abby was born and raised in Northern California, but moved to New York City to obtain a degree in Sustainable Development and Anthropology from Columbia University. While at Columbia, she solidified her passion for international development through studying and researching in Ireland, South Africa, and the Dominican Republic as well as through interning with The Foundation for the United Nations Global Compact. After obtaining her degree from Columbia, Abby returned to Northern California to coordinate sustainability efforts for Driscoll’s, a multinational berry company, where she worked on efforts to eliminate inefficient corporate water use and implemented a nationwide recycling program for plastics used in berry production. International Development being her first passion, Abby left her job in California to work with a social development nonprofit in Bolivia and joined KF29 as a Kiva Fellow in Colombia. She will continue working as a Kiva Fellow in the Dominican Republic this summer.