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Ciudad Bolivar Artisans

Artisan Organization: Ciudad Bolivar Artisans

Country: Andes

Ciudad Bolívar, a district of Colombia's capital, Bógota, concentrates one of the poorest populations in the country. To help improve the economic vitality of this community, a small workshop named Ciudad Bolívar Artisans trains and employs artisans to handweave zuncho crafts—bags and other accessories made from recycled plastic strands.

"Zuncho handweaving is a relatively new urban art in Colombia," workshop founder Oscar Gomez says. "Unlike most other Colombian crafts, products are not woven with natural fibers. They are made from recycled zuncho strands, i.e., decomposed and color-dyed plastic bottles and caps. The weaving technique, however, is like the one used to create baskets made from fique or wicker.

"The square shape of the handbags is inspired by the large shopping bags seen in Colombian street markets, and used to carry all kinds of produce. The geometric patterns interwoven throughout the bags include rhombuses, squares, and diagonal lines, among others. These patterns are usually not rooted in a particular Indigenous culture or symbology, but rather in the creative capacity of the artisan. As a material, zuncho strands are quite versatile and allow for innovation in our embroideries and color combinations.

"Ciudad Bolívar Artisans was founded thirty years ago. With honest effort, it has grown from a family-run enterprise to a community-wide initiative. Ciudad Bolívar currently employs six craftspeople from the community in a workshop; another sixteen artisans have joined us by working from their homes. This decentralized structure has allowed us to reach, teach, and employ artisans from vulnerable backgrounds, including Venezuelan refugees and women with children.

"Beyond supporting marginalized artisans, the business feeds a supply chain that involves many other workers in need. For example, the plastic collectors we hire are often unemployed and homeless. They are responsible for salvaging every bottle and cap we sell to the recycling warehouse. Zuncho handweaving has benefited Ciudad Bólivar at large. It is truly an economically regenerative—not to mention environmentally regenerative—craft that can be taught to many apprentices who would otherwise be out of work.""