In search of some truly original footwear? Look no further than the fantastical designs of Natalia Santamaria. She works closely with Colombia’s finest indigenous artists to create an array of boots, flats, and even high heels, all adorned with the dynamic, many-hued colors typical of Andean peoples. “Every design I create,” says Santamaria, “comes from textiles directly purchased from Native artisans.” This unique symbiotic relationship has created new economic opportunities for indigenous people, while introducing previously unseen, singularly beautiful textiles to the world at large.
Here, textile designs are representative of the rainbow-hued color palette distinctive to Colombia’s majestic mountainous areas. Each cheerily colored item is made by a particular artist, whose individual imprint is unique. Wayuu textiles, for instance, are crocheted by hand, and often incorporate centuries-old mythological entities. Kuna designs often originate from body paint motifs, which for centuries have been an artfully vivid adornment for community celebrations and ceremonies.
When cloth was first introduced to Colombia’s indigenous people, it was stained or printed with natural pigments. Later, artists began to experiment with sewn and applique techniques. Today, an incredible array of colors as well as zoomorphic and floral designs are expertly utilized. Many individual artists specialize in a reverse-applique process passed down from generation to generation, but have been modified for contemporary tastes. Organization founder Santamaria was born and raised in Bogota, Colombia, and grew up surrounded by Kuna folk art. “When the Spaniards invaded our country,” Santamaria notes, “they tried to dominate the Kuna people and force them to quit many of their traditions.” Using all-natural, vegan materials, Santamaria’s unique connection to Colombia’s indigenous populations provides her artisan partners with steady income. “It is my honor to represent and include Native, one-of-a-kind designs,” she says.