In The Studio With Issai by Maison Mezcal
There’s something special about getting back to your roots. Isai Suarez knows the feeling all too well—after spending time abroad in Sydney, Australia, and subsequently in Bali, where he learned his trade, he returned to his hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico. Suarez is a jewelry maker, and no amount of detail can accurately describe how passionate this designer is about his craft. On one hand, he’s continuing the tradition of molding Mexican silver and gold that has characterized the region for generations; on the other hand, his focus on his hometown (versus uprooting his business to Mexico City), and making pieces that are almost entirely handmade, makes Maison Mezcal a standout exception to the rule. We took a virtual visit to Suarez’s studio in Guadalajara to learn more about the origins of his business and why it’s so important to be purpose-driven in your pursuits; read the full interview below.
How did you get started in jewelry making?
It was kind of an accident, in a way. I was sitting in Australia, in Sydney, and I was already creating a lot of things, and designing. And then I was in market one day and I met an artisan from Ecuador. We started talking in Spanish, and I started hanging out in the market, and of course there were other people there selling jewelry. I became friends with them and they told me they got the metal from Indonesia, Thailand, because there’s a lot of silver over there. So I decided to take a trip, and watched all the workshops, saw how they did it, and I really liked it. I wanted to make some things myself. The guys at the market had the general products that were already being made in mass, but I was more interested in designing things. When I was in Bali and learned everything, I decided not to manufacture everything there, because of the language barrier. When I got my samples they were very different from what I thought I had ordered. And I had a lot of trouble. So I came back to Sydney, and one my friends said, “What are you doing in Bali? You’re from Mexico, and Mexico has great silver, and it’s right next to the United States. If I were you, I would be there and selling in America.” So I called a friend and started looking into building something and designing things. It was difficult to bring my idea to life. When I came back to Mexico a few months ago, I found very good shops and designers and good standards. And so I started shipping. But when I sent a big order to Japan, they sent it back! They didn’t like the variation that came from the pieces being handmade by artisans. So integrating a little bit of technology into the whole handcrafting process gave it that extra quality we needed. So that’s what I’m doing at the moment—keeping the essence of craftsmanship, but also upholding that incredible quality that’s accepted worldwide.
What challenges present themselves in that process?
With everything I design, I want to create something to give back, and not just to take. I never want to just take from the Earth. I work with natural materials, like silver and exotic semi-precious stones, and I would never want to exploit people or take away from them. So I started looking into ways that were more sustainable. A lot of our pieces use recycled silver, which also brings a challenge! Because when you start creating with recycled silver, what will happen is that you create a market for people to steal silver. You know what I mean? So some shops don’t like to work with recycled silver for that reason. So those are the challenges that we’re beginning to deal with. But generally, it’s all about creating an incredibly crafted product that meets the quality standard that’s accepted worldwide. Making jewelry in a unique way that gives back to the Earth and to where with the profits you’re able to give back.
Tell us more about how you’re giving back to your community.
There’s a big immigration crisis in Latin America, and what happens is we have a lot of people who get displaced. Families are fleeing violence in their countries and neighborhoods and a lot of them come to Mexico, though their main goal is to go to America. There’s a cargo train that goes all the way from the south of Mexico to the north border in Tijuana, and people jump on it and ride it. On the way they pass through my city, which is the center west coast of Mexico. So the families will come through the city and beg for money to get provisions for the rest of the trip. What we do is we help organizations that are aiming to bring them aid. We go out on Thursday nights with doctors and emergency packages to help, you know, handing out food, sandwiches, water, sanitary products. Eventually I’d love to have a place where people can stop and rest. We’re in our third collection now, and we’re always sending a percentage of what we make to help out the organizations.
What’s the creative community like in Guadalajara?
It’s growing so much. For a long time, all of the serious creatives would go to Mexico City, because it’s such a big international city. When I moved back recently, I was surprised by how many people here wanted to stay. There is an attitude of ownership now like, “This is our city and we want to create here.” My city is the land where Mariachi comes from and where Tequila comes from, so people really want to bring the colors alive and all the beauty of Mexico, and do it here. There’s a lot of people who want to make worthwhile products and create here. It’s growing so fast, so that’s pretty cool.
How would you describe the vision or mission behind Maison Mezcal?
The mission is that we want to create the future through design, and through our shopping habits. We want to create the future with what we love, and we want to the create a future that we would like to live in, with more equality, and more justice. This is what we know how to do, so we just want to help out. I don’t want this to seem like a company; I want it to be a family, or a team, that is looking to solve problem around us and help shape the industry as a whole.
Images courtesy of Issai by Maison Mezcal
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