Mola Sasa Makes Fair Trade Luxury Bags
The luxury brand Mola Sasa is a collaboration between designer Yasmin Sabet and the Kuna indigenous communities of Colombia and Panamá.
I love fashion but I am aware and careful of how and why I consume it. Avoiding fast fashion and focusing on independent designers rather than brands that belong to anonymous conglomerates is one way. The other way is by endorsing the designs of companies that believe in fair trade and sustainability, brands that respect the traditions and the craftsmanship of artisans, fashion that makes a difference to our lives not because of the feeling of possession when you buy it, but because of the social, cultural and political impact your choice will have.
The luxury brand Mola Sasa is a collaboration between designer Yasmin Sabet and the Kuna indigenous communities of Colombia and Panamá. Sabet who is of Colombian-Egyptian origin began her career as an architect and furniture designer.
Molas are traditional apparel fabrics made by the Kuna women. The Kuna are an indigenous people living between Colombia and Panamá. The Kuna are famous for their bright molas, a colorful textile art form made with the techniques of appliqué and reverse appliqué. Mola panels are used to make the blouses of the Kuna women’s national dress, which is worn daily by many Kuna women. Mola means “clothing” in the Kuna language.
The women use the Molas to decorate their shirts. They place one in front and one in the back of the shirt, usually matching. Each Mola is a representation of the Kuna culture, their beliefs and traditions. Some tell a story and depict animals, people or situations, and others are abstract designs. Molas are works of art.
To make a Mola different fabrics are intricately cut into shapes and then layered to create vibrant geometric or figurative designs. The more layers in a design, the finer the Mola. Each cloth is constituted of anything between 2 and 7 layers. Yasmin Sabet looks for the quality of the finishing and the play in the colors. Each Mola is unique and impossible to make in series.
The one-off designs are both culturally and aesthetically rich. As they are handmade, no bag will ever be exactly the same; each fabric is individually hand-crafted by a Kuna woman who will infuse her personal sense of culture, regional tradition and taste into the Mola she is crafting. At Mola Sasa they also treasure their imperfections as they give the bag its unique quality.
The Luxonomist: Why did you start Mola Sasa?
Yasmin Sabet: I love Mola Sasa because it is a very feminine project. All of the fabrics are hand-sewn by the Kuna Women from a reserve in Colombia. They are beautiful, magical and the Mola technique has been passed down from generation to generation so the legacy is stunning. They use vibrant colors and it is so exciting to source fabrics, I can spend hours looking through and falling in love with all of them. It is always hardest to begin the selection process, but it is necessary! I work on the designs with Rosmery who is the leader of a cooperative of 60 women; I use many of their designs from Molas that I have bought from them, but I also use Molas from my collection, from vintage or used ones that I have bought from local markets.
I combine according to the season, so that one doesn’t think of the bags just as a holiday accessory but something to wear out in the city even in winter or autumn. I grew up in Colombia with Molas so I have always had an absolute fascination for these fabrics that are so delicately handcrafted. To me it has become more than just a fashion project, the Kuna women that I work with now have an important source of income».
TL: Please tell us how the clutches are made and where
YS: “All clutches are hand-made in Colombia. The women send the fabrics and we send them out to a local and small workshop in the Bogotá. It’s all about details and perfect finishes. I believe the success has been not just because they are different but also because we are very respectful with the fabrics, we respect the integrity of the designs and we use beautiful colorful canvas for the lining and the sides and the combinations are just magical! The more you look at them all together, the more you want and the more difficult it is to choose from”.
TL: Where do you sell your clutches?
YS: I sell mainly in the USA and in Europe. The Borgo Egnazia hotel in Puglia has already ordered twice. Moda Operandi did two online trunk shows and they are also sold in shops in the Hamptons such as Aerin Lauder’s Aerin and Copious Row in Sag Harbor. In march I am doing a trunk show in San Francisco and I have two shops that carry the line in LA. Singapore and Dubai have also placed orders.
TL: What gave you the idea of creating this line?
YS: “It was by coincidence. I went with a friend to buy fabrics to make cushions with at the popular market here in Bogotá and we thought that it would be beautiful to make some pochettes. Later I started combining two Molas which are the cloths that I use to make bags with. I gave some clutches away on Christmas a year ago and I did a trunk sale in NYC and people loved them. Subsequently I did another trunk sale out of my mom’s house and those sold really well as well. After that my two young cousins Giovanna Campagna y Cloclo Echavarria started a PR company called Creo Consulting and they proposed to represent my brand. They are doing really well with their company. They work with latin american brands and designers such as Johanna Ortiz, who is fashionable now, as well as other cool labels”.
TL: Who is your perfect client?
YS: “You, fashionsphinx ! And Victoria Fernandez and all the women that inspire me. Sophisticated ladies but also young girls that want something different which is neither in leather nor suede and which is not a logo. Something that is handmade by indigenous artisans”.
TL: Are you obsessed with fashion? Do you like to dress up? Or you would rather be comfortable and practical?
YS: I love fashion but I’m not obsessed. I like to dress up for parties or to go out and I love to dig out clothes I haven’t worn in a while and my favorite are my Romeo Gigli hand me down’s from you which I adore! In those I always feel well dressed, they are timeless and so chic. Otherwise my uniform truly is jeans and a t-shirt!
Thank you Yasmin Sabet and Mola Sasa! *Principal photograph: Yasmin Sabet with a Kuna lady called Rosmery. Rosmery is the leader of the 60-woman cooperative that produces Mola Sasa.