Each item you select for your residence has a story to tell, and Jessica Helgerson is hoping to be part of that narrative with her home goods and accessories company, Collectivo.
Founded by the Portland-based designer and two friends in 2015, Collectivo helps Mexican artisans share their products and crafts with U.S. consumers. What began as a passion project has now developed into a full-fledged brand, with a new site that launched last month.
Helgerson has been traveling to Mexico since she was 12 — “I was totally smitten,” she explains of her first family trip to Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende and Guadalajara — and has since been about a dozen more times to explore various regions throughout the country.
Throughout her travels, she’s gained an extensive understanding of the nuances of Mexican culture, but has also grown frustrated with how misunderstood the neighboring nation is in the United States.
“Despite government oppression and significant poverty, there is a vibrant indigenous culture that exists to this day, with a diversity of traditional handicrafts that is really amazing in this modern world,” she explains. “I wanted to do something positive to highlight the beauty of the culture, and try, in a small way, to build a bridge between the two neighboring countries.”
Together with Spanish professor Cristina Niculescu and professor of gender and environmental studies Vail Fletche, Helgerson started the shop, featuring such items as blankets, pillows, shawls and jean jackets. All products are accompanied by a video that details the tradition, process and talent that go in into the final pieces.
On the heels of the new website debut, Luxe chatted with Helgerson about the journey of the brand.
How do you support the artisans you work with?
We support the makers by not negotiating on pricing and just paying what they feel is fair. We know that we have had a positive impact on the financial stability of certain communities, and as we continue to grow that positive impact will grow.
What is one of the most memorable encounters you’ve had with one of your makers?
In an effort to build a cultural bridge, we had the idea to bring vintage jean jackets to Zinacatan and ask the collective of ladies we’d already been working with to embroider them according to their traditions and imaginations. In the memorable moment, we are sitting in a garden with the two sisters who lead the collective, discussing the jean jacket deal, and we ask to hear the background of their organization.
I wish we had recorded the moving and precise chronological history of their work that unfolded, but it started decades ago with a tiny group of just a few women and grew into a much larger organization that now supports many families in the village. In addition to their beautiful embroidery, they have worked on deforestation issues, water rights, sustainable agriculture, education, and literacy. It was so empowering to listen to them and to know that we are supporting a group that does so much positive work in the region.
What pieces take the most amount of time to come together?
Are you ever involved in the design process?
For some of the items we are involved in the design process. The jean jackets are a hybrid of modern fashion and traditional craft; the Chamula Pillows we have tweaked slightly to emphasize certain colors and to make them bigger and with a better closure method. We chose the color combinations for the Larrainzar Cosmetic Bags from the threads that the women in that community work with. In general, we are very aware of how long these traditional crafts have existed and are proceeding with extreme caution before we modify anything.
What is your favorite piece from the line?
I love the Chamula Pillows. I just think they are so elegant, modern, and gorgeous. I love the contrast between the natural wool that is simply colored according to the colors of the sheep with the bright, hot-colored embroidery.
Do the items reflect your personal aesthetic, or is this a departure for you?
I don’t really have one “look” — I appreciate so many things; from clean, modern design to ornate antiques, from sleek minimalism to earthy, organic and handmade.
Do you have a brick-and-mortar shop?
Not yet! For now it’s all online with the occasional seasonal pop-up shop. We shall see what the future brings.