As determined and resourceful as I like to think I am, had I not met Diana Rojas, I might have already caught a plane back to Colorado. My friend, Victor, came across her name through a network of artisans, “Artesanias de Colombia” and she and I began corresponding through email and facebook. She helped calm me down before I left because she seemed like she could help me bring all the various pieces together quickly once I arrived. Of course, I tried to manage my expectations until we met in person, but I honestly had very few …actually no other options.
We met two days after I arrived and she immediately understood my vision- for the style and look of the bag, for what I wanted to accomplish with Briya and the amazing potential there was for creating beautiful bags that integrated the unique, stunning Colombian designs and materials. We had known each other for less than an hour and she had already began mapping our plan of attack and leading me towards an area where we could start looking for material and ideas….game on, we were off!
Diana reminds me of a younger version of myself, but softer, with a huge heart that she gracefully wears on her sleeve and a gentle way about her that is disarming, but persuasive at the same time. I have named her “La imparable” (the unstoppable) because she is always thinking, asking, searching for whatever it is that we need and she simply will not settle for “no”. She just keeps going or persuading until she gets the answer or information that she wants. It is truly so fun and inspiring to watch. What is even more incredible is that she is so inspired by Briya that she is dedicating all of her passion, determination and time to making sure that we succeed.
We initially bonded over our mutual love for animals, but she doesn’t just love them, she rescues them. She lives in a little town about an hour and a half outside of Bogota. Between she and her sisters, they have turned their house and garden into an animal sanctuary. People from miles away bring abandoned or injured animals to their house where they receive food, medical attention and a safe refuge. She is also trying to launch her own project helping indigenous women market and sell their crafts all over Colombia. Did I mention that she is a single mother who wakes up at 5am in the morning to get her daughter off to school, then commutes an hour to her job and then comes to meet me after to help me navigate the world of materials in Colombia? The hours that we have put in to this search are endless, and since she doesn’t live in Bogota and she is as directionally challenged as I am, we have covered some major ground…sometimes in a bit of a circular fashion.
I don’t know what I was expecting exactly, but something along the lines of a big open-air market, lined with table after table of colorful fabrics, hand-made crafts and groups of experienced artisans ready to take my pattern and sew 100 bags in the blink of an eye. A beautiful vision, but not quite how the events have unfolded. Like any big city, Bogota has various neighborhoods and districts- jewelry, shoes, fabric, etc. We have spent day after day exploring the most established fabric districts, entering store after store, stopping to ask every third person where we can find ‘lona’ (canvas) and receiving the same apologetic, “No, Lona, no”. Inevitably, they would think a few seconds, point us in some random direction and we would forge ahead, usually ending up in exactly the same spot. Hilarious and maddening at the same time!
We eventually found a handful of stores that carried what we wanted. Diana did not miss a beat. Pen in hand, she immediately started jotting down notes- prices, colors, measurements. As I went about selecting various colors, she stood hunched over a calculator, crunching numbers to make sure that we stayed within our budget.
Finally, after two solid weeks of searching, countless cups of ‘tinto’ (coffee) and a few cervezas along the way, we found our fabric, a very hard-working man, Bernardo, to make the bags and a group of Indigenous Wayuu Women to make the gorgeous straps. Looking back over the past two weeks, what we have accomplished seems completely miraculous. But actually, it is without a doubt the result of the unstoppable, brilliant determination of my new ally, friend and inspiration, Diana Mendieta Rojas.