We bring you up close and personal with Yasmin Sabet, the designer behind the colourful bag brand Mola Sasa. Mola Sasa are traditional apparel fabrics made by the Kuna women – an indigenous people living between Colombia and Panama. They are famous for their bright, colourful textile art named molas – A technique of appliqué and reverse appliqué. The clutches are 100 percent handmade.
Hello Yasmin, thank you for making time to talk with us!
Yasmin Sabet: It’s a pleasure. I always love telling the world about Colombian culture!
You, and therefore your art influences, have Colombian roots, right?
YS: You could say that. My mother is Colombian – but my father is from Egypt. I lived in Colombia until I was 12, and then in the US and Europe. My liberal arts degree from the US and then studying architecture in London gave me a more global perspective. My husband – who’s Spanish – and I decided to return to Colombia 3 years ago. HOS: That is a well-rounded background! How has your Colombian and Egyptian heritage influenced you and your design ethos? YS: I have been very lucky to have had a multi-cultural background. Having travelled often, I’ve been exposed to many different cultures, and that has been extremely enriching. Growing up, aesthetics was important in our home – but never in a superficial manner. Rather, beauty was never taken for granted. We learned to appreciate how Colombia is a melting pot of ethnicities; indigenous, African and Spanish roots. An immense cultural heritage that needed to be taken to the world.
Your background in architecture and furniture designing – both forms perfectly marry art and science – how have they influenced your design process and philosophy?
I’d say it’s always an advantage to have a background in architecture – it gives one a broader vision and a rigorous approach to work. In fact what you see here – Mola Sasa – is only a small part of our multi-disciplinary studio. We also do furniture and design, and are currently developing a home line.
That’s interesting! In fact, given your background, what made you dive into accessory design?
I like to say I stumbled into fashion! You see I grew up with Molas – the traditional layered decorative fabrics of the Kuna community – we always used them as decorative pieces around the house. One day I took a Spanish friend that had just moved to Bogota sightseeing – to a popular downtown market. Without any forethought, I asked at one of the stalls where I could find molas, and I was shocked when they showed me a treasure trove of molas hidden behind a tangle of wares, and covered in dust. Excitedly, we bought some – for curtains and for cushions. But that evening while talking on the phone, we had the unexpected idea of making clutches! And that, was how it all began.
Mola Sasa is clearly more than just a brand – it is a concept. How did this concept come about?
Once the idea was born, the next step was to decide how to develop the clutches. I wanted the brand to embody the concept of handmade artisanal work. So we made sure our every piece is geared towards that idea. The clutches are 100 per cent handmade and completely artisanal, and yet are luxurious – thanks to the fabrics that are so beautiful, sophisticated and unique.
To get this sophisticated finish, the materials had to be just so. I found a local factory that makes the most beautiful, colourful canvases to complement the outside of the clutches. I was also inspired to use jute on the inside – for its unusual look and texture. Moreover it is neutral and sets off the elaborate and colourful patterns of the molas perfectly.
We want to keep pushing the envelope in this space of artisanal luxury. For our latest projects we are in fact working with Colombian artisans who have mastered different crafts and techniques.
Mola fabrics sound fascinating. And so does your line. Tell us more about your production process?
Our production process is at the core of who we are. We work with a cooperative of 60 women that live in an indigenous reserve in the northern part of Colombia, and sew all of the fabrics by hand. The technique of creating molas involves reverse appliqué layers that are then sewn on top of each other. The more layers a Mola has, the finer it is.
And where does your inspiration come from?
I feel inspiration is all around us! The colour palette of each season, our own collection of fabrics, some of which come from the San Blas Islands of Panama – Another Kuna reserve, as well as the stunning designs created by the Colombian cooperative – each of these inspire us. Sometimes we mix fabrics because we love the way they look together. Abstract patterns and traditional figure motifs come together to create pieces that are absolutely unique and original. Our project is not just about fashion – it is our mission to empower women and to promote small businesses such as the local workshop where the clutches are made by hand. – No wonder we love our project!
That does sound lovely! One last question – would you say in traditional handcrafted products, innovation is the key to staying relevant?
Innovation is always essential and it is also one of the most difficult aspects of any creative enterprise. However when it comes to traditional crafts one has to appreciate the beauty in what has been passed down the generations, and realize that many of these crafts will soon disappear. Innovation in this case then, is about marrying what is and what can be. Using time-honoured techniques in a new way. Thinking outside the box without disrespecting the traditions tied to each craft.
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