One of our best-selling items from Mexico has to be our colourful, ceramic skulls. When we opened the shop four years ago, there was only a niche interest in Mexican art and traditions, but even in those few short years the fascination with these creations has skyrocketed. Pop culture has embraced the "Day of the Dead" celebrations, with films like "The Book of Life" and "Spectre" all increasing the buzz. We always try to bring some skulls back from Mexico, and these are among the best we've ever had.
They were made by Reynaldo, an artist working in Cuernavaca. We have bought skulls from Reynaldo before, although they were glazed whereas this batch has a matt finish. He moulds the skulls from balls of clay, fires them, and then hand paints them.
We sell the skulls as ornaments and curiosities, though it's important to note they are not really a "touristy" item - they are definitely the kind of thing you would see in a Mexican home. Mexicans have (in general) a different attitude to mortality than we do here in the UK - life is seen as more ephemeral, but definitely something to be enjoyed and celebrated. When death comes, the focus is on positive, uplifting events rather than gloomy, downbeat funerals. This can be jarring to our eyes, but there's certainly an argument it's a healthier way of looking at life.
We always love to see the skulls going to a new home. Each one is unique, and we always sell out quickly. We'll be trying to source another batch in time for the autumn.
It has been such a whirlwind since we got back from Mexico that my plan to update the blog with details of all of our travels has become slightly waylaid. Now that I have five minutes I thought I should let you know about some of the places we visited and where we found the stock we're selling in our new pop up shop in Hay on Wye.
We started off in Xalapa, about four hours east of Mexico City. This was the home for the Hay Festival for a few days, which featured an incredible line up of literary talent, including Jeanette Winterson, Ed Vulliamy and Wole Soyinka. An incredible dry clean for our brains, and a beautiful city which we'd never visited before.
From Xalapa we headed south to Oaxaca. When we had visited previously in 2005 we'd been disappointed - the central square was being renovated, there seemed to be loud tourists everywhere and the whole city had the air of somewhere slightly down at heel. This visit was very different. The air was clear, the people were welcoming, the food was incredible, and crucially we made two very significant contacts. One, a government run co-operative, helped groups of artisans in the surrounding towns to pool their labour and ensured they were paid a fair wage. The second was run more commercially, though still along fairly traded principles, which meant they could help with larger quantities and a clear route to get more stock when we need it. This felt like a great leap forward.
After a quick pit stop in Mexico City we headed south again to Cuernavaca. Having lived here in the past we had a fair idea of where to go and again we managed to make contact with two or three really interesting suppliers.
All in all it was a hugely important trip for us, and one which has allowed us to open our pop up shop with some really enticing products and a truly hand-picked range. Come and see us in Hay on Wye, or sign up to our mailing list to find out when our online store opens.
Starting to get excited now. This time tomorrow we'll be in the air, winging our way towards Mexico City. We've made some great progress over the past couple of weeks, chatting to some of the very helpful people at UKTI Mexico and also doing some research and development here in Hay. We have a few leads to follow up in Oaxaca and Cuernavaca and we're hopeful we might stumble across some more great producers on our travels.
We'll be driving through some of the most amazing scenery in Mexico, visiting the ruins at Monte Alban, the hip sophistication of Oaxaca, and the cosmopolitan allure of downtown Cuernavaca. And we get to see Franz Ferdinand, the Vaccines and New Order!
We should be able to keep the blog updated on our travels, so look out for some photos and more news soon.
So here we go again. In two weeks time we'll be getting ready to check in online for our flights to Mexico City. We want to meet new producers who can help us expand our range of fairly traded goods from Mexico and Central America. We already have some great leads, but I think once we're on the ground we'll be able to track a few more down.
Currently our itinerary will take us from Mexico City to Xalapa, home of the Mexican leg of the Hay Festival. From there we'll drive down to Oaxaca for some mole sauce and sunshine. Then it's back to Mexico City before a week in Cuernavaca, the "city of eternal spring." We'll have our eye peeled for anything unusual with a great story about how trade is improving the lives of the artisans we meet.
More news soon. For now, we have to get our website licked into shape before we're ready for takeoff...