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Arts & Culture

Fuerza Unida launches fashion line on Southside

Photo: Scott Andrews, License: N/A

Scott Andrews

Lety Garza and Belen Lira

Photo: Courtesy photos, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

Anti-sweatshop protest at SA City Hall

Two decades after 1,150 garment workers lost their jobs when Levi Strauss closed its San Antonio factory, a handful of the original craftswomen — aided by some of their granddaughters — are turning the tide towards social justice by starting their own fashion line. This Saturday, sewing cooperative El Hilo de la Justicia (The Thread of Justice), headed-up by principal tailor Lety Garza, will unveil more than 20 new designs at Trenzando Comunidades, a dinner/fashion show with music by Mariachi Azar and DJ Despeinada, and a silent art auction benefitting Southside nonprofit Fuerza Unida, home of the co-op. Past District 1 Councilwoman María Antonietta Berriozábal and noted writer Sandra Cisneros will speak at the event. Berriozábal, the first Latina member of City Council, is a long-time supporter of Fuerza Unida. Her autobiographical book, Maria, Daughter of Immigrants, was released by Wings Press this week.

Garza directs the handmade construction of the garments, which are the creative output of local designers Monessa Maria Esquivel, Anel I. Flores, Leticia I. Lozano, and Mary McTyre. Made primarily of organic denim, and custom dyed, the fashions for women and children (with jeans and guayabera shirts for men) are the mature outcome of the co-op's practice since 1996 making custom garment alterations and fabricating clothing, bags, and kitchen accessories. Available at the Fuerza Unida workshop (and hopefully soon at a yet-to-open retail outlet on the South Side), the garments will cost a bit more than jeans at Walmart, but the styles are unique and the build quality exceptional. Eschewing leather, a fabric patch will feature the group's three-fisted logo forming the F of Fuerza.

Noticeable in the designs the Current previewed a week ago was a restrained elegance emanating from the casual wear: jeans featured double-stitching in contrasting colors passed on metal studs; the men's guayabera is re-imagined in the cleaner lines of a military tunic and reappears as inspiration for the most distinctive item in the new line: a women's guayabera dress, with buttons running from top to bottom. Working with Jolom Mayatek, a women's cooperative in San Cristóbal de las Casas, located in the Central Highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, El Hilo de Justicia also incorporates hand-woven details in some of their offerings.

Though El Hilo is a prominent element within Fuerza Unida, sewing isn't their only business. Other programs include Semillas de Justicia, a community garden project, catering services, and educational and legal assistance to the community to learn English, obtain GEDs, and negotiate the road to citizenship. The advent of the new fashion line will help the sewing co-op add more members, and train and hire more craftswomen. The presence of more workers will cramp Fuerza Unida's small rented quarters, but that's in the plans — if all goes well, the group intends to purchase their own building in 2014, making room for more workers to work in a safe environment for fair wages.

Trenzando Comunidades

6pm September 29
Texas A&M-San Antonio
One University Way
(210) 927-2294


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