Roseli Ilano is on a global mission: to work with as many women artisans as possible. She's spent the last three years building a sturdy foundation, partnering with a Oaxacan weaver co-op to design vibrant textiles that define the bags, rugs, and sandals of Ilano's addictive debut line.
And were not using the term "addictive" lightly: while fawning over one piece, your eyes can't help but fixate on another. Ilano's bent toward social justice, women empowerment and fair wages make her pieces even more special. Her line exudes both creative and moral integrity, and with Moroccan and Filipino partnerships up next, she's setting the global standard for virtuous design.
Roseli built her brand three years who while living in Oaxaca, Mexico after a close friend tipped her off to a weaving cooperative in Teotitlán del Valle. She recruited three textile experts to co-design and execute Ilano's pieces, many of whom have been weaving since childhood under the expertise and guidance of family veterans. Smiling from ear to ear while elaborating on the town, it's obvious Roseli loves both the community and it's energy.
" Oaxaca City is a total sensory engagement. There is so much color and activation of sight, smell, sounds. In Teotitlán, the community where our artisan partners live and work, there is such a deep respect for the food, music and traditions. There is a mix of indigenous cultures in Oaxaca, and walking through you can feel all these different stories all around you. There is a strong commitment to preserving those indigenous cultures, which I find so beautiful."
Roseli visits Oaxaca twice a year and is insistent on the "partnership" element of the business, stressing her commitment to women artisanship and empowerment. As a former community organizer and immigrant rights activist, she doesn't appreciate the superiority complex that some other service-oriented programs tend to adopt. Ilano isn't a charity. It's an exchange."There is so much trust and mutual respect. When I visit Graciela, Marcela and Petrona, I stay at their houses and we share family meals. It's a mutually beneficial partnership where we are sharing our cultures and enjoying our constant collaboration. I don't have this vibe of 'we are going to help you' or 'we are going to save you' like other social enterprises that can recreate damaging power dynamics."
Ilano embodies the partnership of women, specifically. Roseli's Filipino grandmother used to run a similar business, enlisting local village artisans to weave chairs, beds and tables out of rattan. This taught Roseli the power of female entrepreneurship, and she finds fulfillment in spreading her values.
"It's very important to build platforms where women can collaborate, work and thrive. That's what ILANO is. I work with an incredible team of women who inspire me every day. I work with women that create with intention, and I want my customers to know the hands behind their product. "
Women are often the ones who pay the price in overcrowded, underpaying fast-fashion factories around the world. If you're constantly buying a ten dollar t-shirt, there is a real cost you can't see - and it falls on the worker. That worker is exploited somewhere in the chain to save you money. Marcela, an ILANO weaver, highlights the negative affects of this growing trend.
"Factories have crept into everything these days, and this is what is devaluing our work. it lowers the prices and creates biases against handmade, artisanal work."
Contrastingly, ILANO pays it's weavers fair wages. By working with Roseli, the Oaxacan co-op was even been able to help start a project to begin building compostable toilets for the town.
"People can feel really good about buying our stuff because every link in the chain has been treated with respect. As a business owner, I believe in dignity and honor. ILANO customers believe in those values, too."
Roseli has been so successful in her three years working with Oaxacan weavers that she's now confidently expanding into Morocco and her family's native country, the Philippines. Weighing feedback from loyal customers who wanted more product, new textiles and new categories, Roseli concluded it was time to expand the brand. She'll be abiding by her same values, still working with the most skillful, hard-working women, and designing pieces that catch your eye and don't let go.
"When you look at ILANO piece, I want you to realize it's not just an object. It has a story. It has a past. It has meaning."