Change the textile and fashion industry and have a small impact on the course of the world through sustainable action? Selina Frei does exactly that – in small steps, but with great conviction and commitment. The graduate of the Swiss Textile College STF has set up a small textile production facility in Chichihuistan, Mexico. Using locally produced fabrics, she and a team from the Inla Kesh community make simple, sustainable clothes.
To advance her project and further develop her sewing workshop Selina needs help. Among other things in form of education materials, orders and financial support. Sewing tools are also needed in the highlands of Chiapas. Through Sonja Amport, the director of STF, Selina contacted BERNINA in spring 2021 asking if we could provide sewing machines to her.
Yes, we could: In fall 2021 BERNINA sent five bernette London 8 machines to Mexico. With the support of our importer Carmenchu Fernandez (BERNINA Mexico) they were to reach Queretaro. Unfortunately, the domestic transport didn’t really work out at first. But now the machines have finally arrived and are performing valuable services.
This is the result of a report that Selina recently sent us and which we are happy to publish below.
BERNINA in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico
By: Selina Frei
Quietly the rain falls from the sky onto the huts in the valley of Chichihuistan a small mountain village. The dry season is over and the thirsty plants are reaching out for water. Excited, joyful voices can be heard in the sewing workshop of Inla Kesh, a community on the outskirts of the village. There is a good reason for this: in the middle of the work table are five new bernette household sewing machines – BERNINA’s popular second brand; a gift flown in from Switzerland for the work and flourishing of my young sewing and textile project here in Mexico.
The five local women from the village who come to me for sewing lessons are completely blown away. How elegant and complex these machines look!
Today I let the women make a first contact with the “newcomers”. All the functions and possibilities of the bernette London 8 which we are now discovering together seem like a miracle for the young women. Giggling but highly concentrated they try out various stitches and carefully approach their new machines.
We will certainly be able to sew and learn a lot with them. Until now we worked on three industrial machines and often the women had to stand in line and wait for their turn to sew a seam. Now we can all sew at the same time and make much faster progress. We also previously missed details such as the buttonhole function about which I am particularly pleased!
How I came to Mexico
My name is Selina and I was born in Switzerland. Even as a little girl I sat on my mother’s lap and watched her sew. Designing, creating and transforming silhouettes and shapes has always fascinated and excited me. After graduating from high school, I was formed as a fashion assistant at the Swiss Textile College STF in Zurich. During my bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design & Technology my heart drew me to Mexico because I had fallen in love while traveling and was expecting a child.
I have been living here in Mexico with my family in the village of Inla Kesh for two and a half years now. I took my passion for sewing with me and therefore opened a small sewing school with workshop in January a year ago.
My vision is to create a textile center here in Inla Kesh, in the mountains of Chiapas. A place where the art of textile design can be taught, learned and practiced in order to live more autonomously. It is especially close to my heart to encourage women and enable them to be independent and educated.
My desire is to preserve and revive the craftsmanship that can still be found here in indigenous communities. One of my inspirations is the Khadi project in Oaxaca, see on www.khadioaxaca.com.
Equally, it is a great concern of mine to restore the connection to clothing as an expression of consciously lived responsibility, ethics and culture.
Therefore, it is important to me to be able to completely illuminate the manufacturing process of our clothing and to design each step in the conscious and sustainable use of the resources of our earth.
The community Inla Kesh
Inla Kesh (greeting in Maya: “I am you and you are me”), the community in which my sewing workshop is embedded, was founded 11 years ago. Today we are about 15 people working together for a life in more harmony and also harmony with nature inside and around us.
In the center of our vision is the healing of our inner life. We believe that if we do not go through a change within ourselves, we will create the same structures over and over again. For this we work with different methods and techniques as well as internally and externally guided consciousness expanding courses.
In addition to mental and spiritual growth the material level of life is just as valuable to us. That is why we build our houses almost exclusively from local materials: clay, stone, sand, straw, palm leaves etc.
A constantly increasing portion of our food comes from our organically planted garden. On our land there are two ponds and several ditches which allow the water to slowly seep into the earth and optimally water our plants and trees.
In addition to our daily life, it is important for us to maintain our friendship with the locals from the village. We learn a lot from the simple peasant life and the cheerful openness of the people and in return we give them the opportunity to expand their knowledge in specific areas and to work in a peaceful and appreciative environment.
We run a chocolate production here because Mexico has a lot of cocoa! Seven women from the village work with us. They enjoy the protected space and create tasty delicacies with laughter and giggles coming from the chocolate factory every now and then.
In addition to the chocolate project, a woman and a man help us with gardening learning about permaculture and organic farming.
The natural buildings also need constant repair. Therefore, the men from the village are helping us and learning the old techniques of natural house building (instead of concrete and corrugated iron, which is unfortunately used everywhere here). And then of course there is my growing sewing workshop where I give the women of the village the opportunity to discover their creative skills in an intimate setting. I also teach them a craft that is of great use to them in their daily lives, as they can now make and repair their own clothes.
La Rosa in Inla Kesh
For two years the association La Rosa (https://www.ecuadorhilfe.com/),founded
by my grandmother Rosa Frei, has been supporting the setup of the productive workshop here in Inla Kesh. Through her help we built a new separate building for the chocolate factory last year.
Since January our helpers have been working on a building for my sewing workshop.
I feel honored and very happy that, thanks to the life and heartwork of my grandmother, I can now give life to a physical and generous space for my vision and creative work!
Creations from the sewing workshop
The clothes I create in my studio are an expression of my desire to reunite nature and human beings. In doing so, I research for example what effect specific colors and shapes have on the human condition, how original, archetypal traits can be made to shine, what kind of clothing helps us human beings to feel comfortable in our essence and to be allowed to live from there, etc.
The models shown here are produced until now in small quantities. We sell the meditation cushions in a store in the nearby town, about which we are very happy. A website is under construction.
I would like to thank BERNINA from the bottom of my heart for this generous donation!
Warm greetings from Mexico
Selina, the seamstresses Sandra Paola, Rosa-Carolina, Teresa, Rosa-Emilia, Magdalena
and the Inla Kesh community
Dear Selina, we have to thank you! At BERNINA, we are always happy when craftsmanship is combined with personal commitment and when our sewing machines contribute to a good thing.
Inla Kesh’s sewing workshop can only do its work thanks to the support of numerous sympathizers. Further supporters are warmly desired and welcome! Do you want to help?
Please contact [email protected] directly.
You can get more impressions of Inla Kesh on their Instagram channel Inla Kesh ropa artesanal where Selina shows her work.