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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkVallarta Living | Art Talk | May 2006 

Mexican Artisans Turn Trash into Fashion
email this pageprint this pageemail usLisa J. Adams - Associated Press


Francisca Megia with her her son Daniel, works at creating women's clutches, shoulder bags and hip belts out of candy wrappers, potato chip bags and cookie packages the nonprofit Group for the Promotion of Education and Sustainable Development, or Grupedsac, an organization that since 1987 has helped poor Mexican Indians become self-sufficient through development projects that also aim to preserve the environment in the town of La Soledad, Mexico on Feb. 15, 2006. The products they make, are now selling on Web sites and in upscale U.S. boutiques and department stores for up to $200 apiece. (Marco Ugarte/AP)
La Soledad, Mexico - Empty candy wrappers, potato chip bags and cookie packages that once littered roads and filled Mexican dumps are now making fashion statements in New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo.

Indian men and women from the central state of Mexico have converted the food labels into colorful women's clutches, shoulder bags and hip belts that are selling on Web sites and in upscale U.S. boutiques and department stores for up to $200 apiece.

The idea began here with the nonprofit Group for the Promotion of Education and Sustainable Development, or Grupedsac, an organization that since 1987 has helped poor Mexican Indians become self-sufficient through development projects that also aim to preserve the environment.

Solar energy, water cisterns, irrigation systems, organic food cultivation and housing construction are among the many initiatives the group has brought to dozens of residents in La Soledad and other poor communities in Mexico State, which surrounds Mexico City on three sides.

Making purses out of nonbiodegradable packaging started about eight years ago, after a visitor to Grupedsac's training center taught a group of women how to mold candy and food-wrapper chains into small change purses.

The classes inspired Edith Samanao, a social worker with Grupedsac who at the time was teaching women how to sew and make stuffed animals.

"We realized that it was actually very easy to do," she said, and soon she and her students began making larger purses as well as designing and manufacturing their own backpacks, bracelets, earrings, and placemats.

In early 2004, Grupedsac began looking in earnest for ways to market the purses, initially distributing them to small gift stores and boutiques in Mexico, project coordinator Olivia Mogollon said.

Later that year, a daughter of Grupedsac Executive Director Margarita Barney de Cruz brought a few purses with her to show to friends in Palm Beach, Florida, where they quickly caught the attention of retired British textile manufacturer Stanley Cohen and his wife, Elaine.

The organization currently provides the Cohens with up to 150 bags, plus dozens of belts, a week. The Cohens resell them to Bloomingdale's branches and small boutiques throughout the state of Florida, as well on their Web site, www.Sweetiepurse.com.

Miami-based entrepreneur Jonathan Marcoschamer began buying the purses more than two years ago.



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