"Fashion meets nature" is the mantra behind Colombian label Arteli's handbags, and sustainability lies at its heart. Handmade by female artisans in South America, these bags are handwoven from natural materials and marry craftsmanship with nature. We chatted with Arteli's founder, Juan Camilo Meisel, about his eye-catching designs and the philosophy they represent.
Q: Where did the idea for Arteli come from?
A: When I was very young, I always saw my mom making her own clothes and accessories, and working closely with artisans to create beautiful pieces for herself and her friends. I was always intrigued by how they were able to create beautiful fashion pieces with materials coming directly from nature, some of which I was exposed to in their purest form when spending summers at my grandfather’s farm.
When I was 18, I came to Boston for school and started traveling a lot. I noticed an increased international awareness for sustainable fashion and handmade bags throughout the years, which always reminded me of my old days at the farm and watching my mom sew, weave and put things together with artisans to come up with wearable art pieces. I always wondered why I was not seeing the beautiful work of Colombian artisans on the streets of the world. Then I realized that it was because they didn’t really have access to the international fashion market, and that was when Arteli was born. Arteli was born to fill the gap and build a bridge between Colombian artisans and the international, sustainable fashion market, with handmade bags built out of sustainably-sourced, natural materials.
Q: How did you come up with the name?
A: Arteli is the word Art, combined with the first three letters of my mother’s and grandfather’s last name, Elias. When I first thought about it, it was a no brainer. I knew it was the perfect name for a brand that is all about art and nature.
Q: How would you sum up the Arteli aesthetic?
A: Arteli is all about clean designs with simple, sustainable materials. Wearing an Arteli bag is wearing a handcrafted, sustainably sourced piece of nature.
Q: Can you tell us about the process and materials used?
A: We have formed a close relationship with female artisans in the small town of Usiacuri, located on the North Coast of Colombia, who are now the magical hands behind Arteli. By working with such talented artists, we have been able to intersect the highest detailed hand creation processes with the highest quality natural materials.
The making process begins with raw Iraca palm tree leaves, dried with earth’s most powerful element, the sun. Then, the dried leaves are dyed using vibrant colors, which are extracted from various natural elements. This entire process takes approximately three weeks. After this, artisans begin to work their magic, carefully weaving the leaves together to form these gorgeous pieces.
Q: What is your biggest source of inspiration when it comes to your work?
A: My biggest source of inspiration is working with artisans and providing them with opportunities to make a living out of what they love. In Usiacuri, a high percentage of women are the head of their households and they’ve been able to get there through sustainable fashion and using weaving techniques that have been passed down from generation to generation in their families.