An Afro-Latina Accessory Line Working To Reclaim Our Magic

We caught up with Bay Area's Marisol Catching, founder of Azteca Negra.  Her handmade accessories are fashion and political statements that were designed with the intention of creating wearable art. Art is a statement of what is in the artist’s heart. This entrepreneur is passionate about expressing, celebrating, and reclaiming her heritage, and creating pieces that allow Black and Brown communities to do the same.

1.     When and why did you become a sustainable accessory designer?

After college, I was working for the man, and was struggling to find a “work-appropriate” style while still maintaining my sense of individuality and culture. I looked for jewelry that I felt was representative, but was unable to find it. In 2013, I began to dabble in jewelry design using beads and cultural textiles. I am a huge fan of thrifting, and used both materials that I found in my favorite local thrift store and textiles that I found in my yearly family trips to Mexico to create my pieces. I came across scrap leather at another local shop and decided to incorporate it to make my pieces long lasting and sturdy. I really appreciated the idea of creating with upcycled materials, as to leave less of a footprint on Madre Tierra (Mother Earth).

2.     How do you define sustainability?

My definition of sustainability is first using renewable resources, and second recycling already produced materials to create less of a harmful impact on the Earth.

3.     How does your Chicana and Black heritage influence your work?

Azteca Negra is named for my cultural background, and all of my art is inspired by and expresses my Afro-Latina heritage. I thank my parents for creating space for me to embrace, learn the histories of, and to take pride in both sides of my heritage. Especially at this particular time, I think it’s extremely important that Black and Brown folks recognize and reclaim our magic and the power and influence that we hold. My art is vessel through which I reclaim my magic.

4.     What’s the biggest challenge as a conscious designer?

My biggest challenges are being aware of sourcing of materials that are not upcycled, and creating respectful and clear awareness around exploitation of culture and appropriation.

5.    Where do you see the future of sustainable fashion and accessories?

I believe that the movement is definitely necessary and that it is growing. We are in a time when more people are becoming aware of how the products we purchase and consume are being made and of the impact that production is having on our planet and us.

6.     Do you see other ethical brands coming out of the Bay Area?

One of my favorite sustainable fashion designers is Mercedes Martin of Tres Mercedes. She is also an Afro- Latina celebrating her culture through art, and many of her materials are repurposed and upcycled as well. I’m not aware of that many other sustainable fashion brands or businesses here in the Bay Area. But that’s not to say that they don’t exist.

7.     What are some of your favorite pieces?

The Tonaltzintli Earrings are probably my favorite pieces to create. They are crafted with 80-90% upcycled materials. I use upcycled bangle bracelets, upcycled leather, and Mexican cambaya fabric to make them in to cultural accessories.

8.     What are some of your staple materials and why?

Cultural textiles, upcycled leather, upcycled beads, and upcycled chain are my main materials. I create my art with cultural textiles and design inspiration from Mexico and various African countries. I’m all about colors that pop and designs that have ancestral meaning. All of the leather that I use is upcycled, scrap leather. I love the feel and longevity of leather. Working with leather allows me to create pieces that are well made and hold up over time. As I said, I’m a thriftier, so I’m constantly on a treasure hunt in my local thrift and antique shops, and come across really great beads and chains that can be reimagined and reused.

9. What has been your greatest achievement thus far? Challenge?

I think that my greatest achievement has been being able to use my art and my voice to inspire others. In a world that revolves around competition and scarcity, I think that it is important to share resources and messages of love and positivity, especially in the Black and Brown communities.  I share my experiences, my resources, and good energy with my Black and Brown artist community and communities at large. I honestly believe that I can attribute my success to that, because what you give out is returned to you ten-fold.

As my business grows, my biggest challenge is being able to maintain the search and sourcing of upcycled materials. It was very easy to find materials when my business was just starting out and I had hours to spend going from store to store. Not I have to be a little more strategic with time and finding materials.

10. Do you see cultural appropriation of indigenous cultures in today’s mainstream industry … If so, how can we mitigate this issue?

Oh yes, appropriation is real, especially when it comes to fashion. I see it first-hand at craft fairs all of the time. Artists create using indigenous designs, textiles, and patterns that are not of their own cultural background, and sell it as their own for ridiculous prices.

I create my pieces specifically for myself and for my communities. I’m all about respectfully making my customers aware of the difference between blind appropriation and conscious acknowledgement and appreciation of the cultural items that they wear and use. I think that it's necessary to have honest dialogue with people around appropriation to protect our energy and push back against that kind of oppression.

11. Who or what has inspired you the most?

Sharing space and energy with other creatives inspires me the most. I love seeing other creatives thrive and express through their respective craft. They inspire me to push my business and my art to new levels.

12. What can we expect from you in the near future?

Azteca Negra will be representing at the 2017 Essence Festival! Also, I have partnered with two dope Oakland artists, Hope Lehman of Fresh to Def Collective and Kamilah Richardson of Rich & Riot to form Just Be. We are a collective by and for Black Woman Entrepreneurs to support, uplift, network, and create opportunities for those in our ecosystem. We are also excited for the launch of the Just Be Podcast in July 2017!



"Go out and paint the world." - Marisol