Designers creating one-of-a-kind handmade products
“Corrreteando Chuletas” is the name of a photograph of two young women running away in an urban city landscape. Their identities are shuttered by colorful wrestling masks, matching fitted motorcycle jackets, skirts, thigh-high leather boots and gloves. Whether this is a fashion editorial, a fine arts photograph or a still frame from some Mexican new cinema film, that’s up to the audience. The photograph by Colombian-born designer Juan Carlos Obando was sold for $1600 at Project Paz’s annual fund raising event in New York.
Fashion and art usually go well together. And, in the city of New York –America’s cultural center – everyone wants to take part, so, the competition is fierce. It is also a fact that as public figures with hundreds and thousands of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook followers, fashion designers and artists have reached a power of influence that goes beyond style and the latest’s trends. That’s what Project Paz’s board members saw as they envisioned collaborations between fashion designers, artists and them, in order to raise funds for their cause of helping their hometown region of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
The amounts of violence and gangs that have stripped Juarez out of its safety, economy, and businesses, gave more than 20 Mexican professionals based in New York the reason to create a non-profit organization called Project Paz. The name is part Spanish, part English, just like the mix of languages in the region of Ciudad Juarez, right in the US and Mexico’s border, more than three years ago. Every year before Christmas Project Paz’s annual charity event Project Art takes place in New York, and not to anyone’s surprise, it has been a great success.
The organization has sponsored the incubation of new forms of art and fashion by modern contemporary designers and artists inthe city, much of which had no link to Mexico in the first place. “[As citizens of Juarez/El Paso] we felt the obligation to make people conscious [of the situation in Juarez] and help, in a way that was within our possibilities, as we live so far away,” said Adal Gutierrez, board member and spokes-person for Project Paz.
For starters they asked fashion designer friends to donate items, especially for the Project Paz cause. But it was after they caught the attention of art curator and consultant Anne Huntington, who helped them collect art pieces from galleries and art houses in New York, that the process of establishing an annual auction took place. “We realized that what made sense was to create an event that combined art and fashion, because that’s what New York’s audience requires, and also because we’re competing with many other non-profits with very interesting concepts. So, we put the Mexico seal, our seal, and hoped for the best – and it has been a total success,” said Gutierrez.
Project Paz partners with a Mexican foundation FECHAC supporting the program ADN (“Ampliando el Desarrollo de los Niños” or Expanding Children’s Development Program). Together, they work by investing in the education of Juarez’s children and establishing an ‘after-school’ program with activities such as soccer, karate, crafts, music etc. “We are convinced that it is the children our best object to focus on, because it’s them who are the future of their communities, and the future of Mexico,” says Gutierrez.
Last year’s charity event raised $140,000. The money came from donated art pieces, and specially designed clothing by designers like Thakoon, Peter Som, Rag & Bone, Christian Cota, Juan Carlos Obando, and others. Each of the pieces was made of handcrafted textiles donated by The Textile Museum of Oaxaca, Mexico, but they follow each of the designers’ aesthetic and vision. The pieces were later on produced on small scales, and sold at the high-end destination e-tailer L-Atitude. Only one piece from each designer is to be found at L-Atitude right now, yet customers can still purchase this year’s Sara Beltran’s colorful woven bracelets with Project Paz’s logo, and ad the bargain of $40 t-shits by Beltran and Michael Bastian. Needless to say, all funds will be added to AND’s 2013 school cycle.
Project Paz 2012 event took place on December 17th at 82 Mercer in New York City, and was hosted by fashion-industry personalities such as Michelle Harper, Misha Nonoo, Nic Roldan, Ana de la Reguera, Michael Bastian, Yigal Azrouël, and Phoebe & Annette Stephens. “This year, we tried a different kind of collaboration, so we asked the designers involved that, instead of donating one of their fashion designs, they were asked to donate one photograph inspired by Mexico and Project Paz,” said Gutierrez. There were more than 60 pieces exhibited at the charity event, and a total of 21 photographs by fashion designers, which sold from $400 to $1600 a piece. The auction represents the elements that compose what Project Paz is all about – “Art, fashion, New York, Mexico.”
Perhaps it is the uniqueness of the products that have drawn the American and international press to this event. Or maybe, it is the charity component that attracts so many people to Project Paz’s unique cause. “What we’re doing is promoting peace on a long term basis, and I believe that the children are the answer,” states Gutierrez. “It’s very moving to see the results in the children faces. What is most emotional is seeing the Karate classes, because of the discipline that they’ve learned from these. I’ve never seen children so involved and focused on a school-related activity.” Project Paz collaborators work for the sake of a better life for the Mexican generations to come. In the meantime, they’ve started a trend. Hand-woven friendship bracelets never looked so fashionable.
Photos courtesy of Project Paz.