Designer, Marisol Centeno, has spent a good portion of her adult life figuring out how best to help people, in particular the indigenous communities in her native Mexico. Her company, Bi Yuu (which means air and earth) specializes in traditional flat weave rugs crafted by artisans in Oaxaca’s Zapotec community. Marisol believes Bi Yuu has the responsibility, along with producing beautiful, sustainable leading edge carpets, to be an agent of social change. Her philosophy, she explains, is what led her to GoodWeave®, an organization which will help her expand her mission outside of Mexico. “We want to continue to have a positive impact in the lives of our partners.”
Improving the conditions for weavers and strengthening the rights of children is in the DNA of her company and so is the protection of the environment. To that end the 100% Lincoln and merino wool carpets are all colorfully dyed using natural pigments.
She points to the rug, Bacaanda, with its geometric patterns in a palette of a deep reds and purples. The red, a carmine, comes from the most traditional of all natural dyes. an extract made from crushed insects. Bacaanda’s design was influenced by a year Marisol spent living among the Zapotec people studying their traditions. The rug’s inspiration, she says, was the ceremonial tunic-like dress called a huipil. The rug and its reinterpretation of a deep aesthetic tradition represent not only beauty but also power. “In doing this project,” she says, “I was showing my respect for the weavers.”
Marisol’s interest in textiles and in indigenous design go back to her childhood. She learned to sew and knit from her grandmother and although her family was not indigenous, an uncle by marriage was. She remembers at joint family celebrations seeing the colorfully embroidered clothing worn by the uncle’s family and finding it fascinating. “They told so many poetic stories around how they embroider their clothes.”
After earning a degree in textile design and working in the textile industry, she became dissatisfied with the status quo and decided to spend one year “exploring and learning” with the Zapotec people. She says she had a vision of founding a company that would produce a fine product, collaborate fairly with indigenous artisans, satisfy her deep desire to “make a difference” and honor her Mexican roots.
One Bi Yuu rug, for example, is a nostalgic piece that recalls a Mexico train that meandered through the desert and forest. Norte 61 is in a palette of sky blues, sunshine yellows and shades of desert beiges and grays. This one, she says, with its colorful sky, desert and sun tones is her favorite.
Reaching back into her own culture and family led to the production of Recuerdos. Inspired by both old photos of her grandmother as well as the art deco period of Mexican architecture, the black, white and shades of grey in Recuerdos evoke nostalgia. “The rugs are just full of stories.”
All the rugs all have an emotional component for Marisol. They have also clearly found favor with a discerning public and garnered the respect of the indigenous weaving community. “I know maybe I’m not going to change the world but I want to make a difference so if we can produce something that makes some difference, why wouldn’t we all do it.”