What Does Your Heart Say
When you think of leather products, there is a good chance that Italy comes to mind. What if we told you one of the leather capitals of the world is in North America? Nestled between vast mountain ranges 6,000 feet above sea level just northeast of Mexico City sits Leon, Guanajuato, a city that is as tough and malleable as the leather it produces. It is here that Sarai, Maria, and Noelia Torres grew up surrounded by artisans and craftsmen, some of whom now produce beautiful leather goods by hand for their brand, bixi awotan.
When asked what “bixi awotan” means or translates to, Sarai Torres explains that it is a Mayan phrase used for more than 3,000 years that poses the question “what does your heart say?” Sarai and her sisters’ answer followed their dream of contributing to the great tradition of leather goods manufacturing that makes their hometown famous.
Leon has a long history of leather production within the Guanajuato region. This history includes everything from cattle ranching to tanning leather and crafting the shoes and bags the city is most famous for. Brands from all over the world travel to Leon to source leather and produce a superior product.
It is no surprise the sisters decided to apply their love of fashion and design to products from their own backyard, melding traditional sewing techniques with modern silhouettes in their core handbag and leather goods collection. Their abiding connection to Leon, where they still live, also means they can ensure ethical and sustainable manufacturing, about which they are passionate.
Here’s more from my conversation with Sarai Torres.
SP: Describe what it’s like in Leon, surrounded by so much culture and heritage of leather making. I hear it smells like leather the minute you step off a plane, giving you those new leather highs!
ST: Well, that story is totally true! Now, I can´t perceive that smell, but visitors keep saying that. My city is very industrial, a high percent of the population works in the leather business and manufactures products. I really love from here that we have many entrepreneurs, maybe it’s because, in this city, we have a lot of parts of the chain that you need when you want to start your own business. For example, most people who studied fashion design or something related to it start their own business or grow the family business. For me, it’s amazing that you can find super young people owning a very successful brand. Normally, in other cities, people are more focused on working for a fashion company, which is not bad, but you can see the difference here.
Our geographic location is a very strategic point to connect with worldwide, which gives us a great advantage to be more competitive.
SP: Did you grow up around craftsmen, seeing their work firsthand?
ST: Yes, one of my grandfathers worked tanning cow leathers, and my other grandfather was a shoemaker, so we were more than close to it.
SP: When did you and your sisters get into design, and what inspired you to start the company?
ST: Maria and Noelia were studying fashion design, and sometimes for their homework, they had to create products, and they loved bags. They were always creating handbags or leather accessories for school projects. Every time this happened, all their friends or even their teachers asked to buy the product from them. It kept happening like that until one day somebody who owned a store made an order for 50 products; that was unbelievable and super unexpected for my sisters because at that moment they didn´t have the idea to start a business, and more stories like that one kept happening until the moment we had to open our own factory to supply all the orders and keep growing the business. This was the moment when I joined the team 12 years ago and counting!
SP: Why is sustainable manufacturing important to you?
ST: We are very conscious of the huge impact we are making on the earth just for the fact that we are here and have to be part of society, so everything we do is always thinking about what is the best way possible to do it for the environment, starting with our collaborators. We give them fair trade and the right facilities to work in and use sustainable materials free of toxic substances that negatively affect people’s health and the environment.
SP: What’s your favorite piece from bixi awotan and why?
ST: Definitely the Tulum Bag because this one is totally inspired by nature. Once on a trip to the desert with my sister and some friends, Maria and I walked together and found a stick with a fascinating texture and patterns. Somebody explained to us that it was a dry cactus. Its texture was so different and unique that we took it home to have as décor. It was awesome for us to think about how something dead had turned into something like that.
SP: Why is it important to spend a little more on handcrafted pieces? How would you describe the experience of owning fine leather goods?
ST: We had an experience with my mom that left a mark on us. One day she gave us one of the leather bags she used when she was young, it was a beautiful bag! We thought it was even more beautiful than when it was new. That was such a great moment, and we wanted to make that experience possible for others by making a bag that could be part of your heritage and having your loved one love it the same or even more than the day you bought it. Being handcrafted makes a bag more unique. Every detail on it will assure you that it was made with expert hands full of dreams and passion.
SP: In an increasingly virtual world, can you describe how the leather used in the bestselling Tulum bag feels for our readers? How will this change over time?
ST: The Tulum Bag is the one you will love more with time. Its leather will start turning softer and a little bit darker in color, with a natural shine. It is structured but soft and comfortable leather. It´s perfect for every occasion, you can use it as a satchel, shoulder bag, or crossbody, and it´s spacious and perfect for everything you have to carry for your day. Or, if you like to travel lighter, the Mini Tulum Bag will be your match. Don´t miss the chance to fall in love with it!
SP: Finally, what’s next for the brand?
ST: We are very focused on online business, trying to be in more countries worldwide. We are also looking to expand our shoe line and explore apparel, so stay tuned!