Mariposas San Miguel: Design making a difference

Coordinator Angeles Agreda ans sister; at the background the unfinished community center

Women of Mariposas

By Jade Arroyo

Mariposas San Miguel is an enterprise that promotes the development and skills of female textile artisans in the rural community of San Antonio de la Joya (located 30 minutes from town, toward Guanajuato). Based on the tenets of fair trade (fair price and wages, democracy, dignity, ecology, transparency), Mariposas San Miguel supports embroidery and sewing as an economic alternative for the women from this community. The project embraces the values of autonomy, dignity, respect for creative freedom and equality and gives the women a chance to work in an area where employment is very scarce and to stay at home with their children.

Artist Lena Bartula started the project in 2009. In April 2013, Leila Elliot-Ridgeway and Daniela Franco took over, with the goal of reinvigorating, updating and promoting Mariposas San Miguel here, in the US, and beyond. Mariposas San Miguel takes as its name and logo the butterfly, a universal symbol of transformation and freedom. It is also an homage to the lives and work of the Mirabal sisters, who work for women’s empowerment and struggle for justice. Owing largely to the sisters’ activism, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is celebrated on November 25.

Plans for the future

One of Mariposas’ most immediate initiatives is to modernize and restructure production and reach out to a broader market with innovative designs. A new line of products, called Pueblo Unido, is being presented as a fresher, younger and more affordable line. They are shoulder bags that combine the work of seamstresses and designs by emerging artists that communicate perspectives on contemporary social issues and a message of peace. Pueblo Unido is defined as eco-ethical and uses only recycled materials. This line has just been launched, and Mariposas San Miguel is looking to expand it with the support of artists who want to collaborate. Currently there are designs by artists Alejandra Mendoza, Leonardo Díaz and illustrator Edward Elliot-Ridgeway (Leila’s husband). Another change is the introduction of a new version of the iconic image of the butterfly that represents the project.

In the community of San Antonio de la Joya women only have the resources to do the work of hand embroidery and patchwork. The sewing machines are located in the house of the project coordinator Ángeles Agreda, who lives in San Miguel. Obviously, this situation involves much time and effort. To resolve this situation, there is now a half-built community center in San Antonio de la Joya, which will serve as a workshop for the cooperative. However, this workshop is far from completed, and they need support to finish it and equip it properly. With this community center the women’s cooperative will be able to grow by concentrating production in one place.

Ethical shopping

Mariposa products are made entirely by hand using cotton and other high-quality materials. Making a bag involves a lot of time; it takes several steps and the work of two or more women. One does the patchwork and embroiders the slogan (imagina un mundo sin violencia, imagine a world without violence) and another assembles the finished bag. The entire process takes three to four hours, and the average bag costs around 350 pesos (formerly the cost was 450 pesos, but the price was lowered to appeal to more customers).

The bags come in a variety of styles from shoulder bags to messenger bags and smaller bags. Following the same style of embroidery and patchwork, they also manufacture caps, table runners, cushion covers and children’s dresses and backpacks. The products are available online, at craft fairs and bazaars and by appointment. Mariposas hopes to have their work carried by an established store soon.

Women working together

The cooperative is formed by 16 women who are seamstresses and embroiderers, one united community of females between 18 and 60. They are daughters, grandmothers, sisters, and wives, but most are young mothers with small children or babies (some of them single). For all of them, Mariposas San Miguel is a source of employment and economic independence, and it also gives them a sense of pride and personal achievement and another way making a living for themselves and their children. Ana, a member of the cooperative, said that she gets really excited when she sees someone on the street carrying a Mariposas bag. “It’s very special for me to see someone carrying a bag that we made and sharing the message of nonviolence,” she said. One of the oldest members and the coordinator of the cooperative is Angeles Agreda, who has been part of the project since its inception and also has her own side sewing and embroidery projects. “We are a group of women who met years ago; we call ourselves ‘Women Working Together.’ With our work we want to raise awareness among men and women about the message we put into our products: end violence,” she said. Eve do the cooperative chooses to maintain the privacy of the members, they shared that this project has open up their minds and hearths, before they used to be really tight and afraid of others. Ángeles added: “Women always get the last opportunity, and that situation is even worst in the country. Our work is a struggle for wmen to have alternatives to build a better life, better alimentation, education and family development”. Beatriz is a single mom of two, she’s 42 years old: “There is a lot of need. Like, right now, my son is finishing elementary school and there is no work and we need a lot of things. I want to work but there isn’t any, I wish there was more in order to have what we need”. Another member is Ángeles Alvira: “The opportunity for a woman in this project, in this group, can work a little from home while taking care of her kids is great! It takes a lot of guts and willingness to want to give your children something.”

Donations and volunteer opportunities

Donations of fabric and sewing materials are always welcome. Mariposas San Miguel does not have a shop, so they are looking for places and events to showcase and sell their products to the public. Organizing events and marketing is another way to support this women’s cooperative. They are also looking for artists who would like to create new designs for the Pueblo Unido line. The artists will receive credit for their designs, and it is a good advertisement for them.

On December 15 a benefit concert for Mariposas San Miguel will be held at Café Monet (Zacateros 83), a fundraiser to complete the community center in San Antonio de la Joya that the women need so much. You can contact Leila at or Daniela at, visit the website or the Facebook page and also subscribe to their newsletter to learn about upcoming events.

Leila Elliot-Ridgeway and Daniela Franco

These two women took over the project six months ago, hoping to expand the Mariposas San Miguel project and improve the social and economic development of women in the community of San Antonio de la Joya. Leila has worked in violence prevention programs and on projects for CASA, such as Proyecto 41 (which advocates for the rights of sexual diversity). “I was very inspired by the fact it was women run it; that was exactly what I wanted to do: create a new way of working,” Leila shared. Daniela is half-Mexican and has spent several years living in this country; she specialized in human rights and business and, like Leila, has been involved with social development programs and micro-loans. “In Mexico there’s a still a lot of discrimination against women. They don’t earn the same. It’s important for women to have their own incomes and a job that allows them to be mothers,” she said. Both of them have participated in the program Libros Sin Fronteras (Books Without Borders), which brings books to rural communities in San Miguel and encourages reading. While working on that project they met Lena Bartula, the initiator of Mariposas San Miguel, and they decided to become partners.


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