Tres Manos Weaving of New Mexico, Inc.
Doña Ana County in New Mexico is a rural, border area within 50 miles of Texas and Mexico. The county is home to 37 colonias communities (unincorporated areas) that are among the least economically developed areas of the United States. More than one in three families with children under 18 live in poverty. More than 65 percent of the population is Hispanic. More than 50 percent of the population speak Spanish at home; English is their second language. More than 50 percent of families living in poverty have no member who has graduated high school. More than 60 percent of families living in poverty have, at most, one member who works.
There are severe economic barriers for people who lack a high school education, English language skills, reliable transportation and computer skills. Work options for many low-income women are limited to cleaning houses, caring for relatives at home or agricultural work. Entrepreneurship for low-income people is not a priority in traditional training and economic development programs.
We can do better than this. Communities and dedicated people want to see all people achieve their dreams. Social and work opportunities are important to all women, regardless of their socio-economic status. All women want to contribute to their family’s economic security and quality of life. Low-income women have the same creative spark and entrepreneurship capabilities as anyone else.
Tres Manos Weaving of New Mexico, Inc., a charitable nonprofit in Mesilla, adjacent to Las Cruces, is creating a successful training and mentoring economic pathway for low-income women to thrive as professional artisan weavers. Tres Manos is a women-led organization that provides free weaving, business and life-skills training in Spanish and English. It also provides space, floor looms, hands-on mentoring and a variety of high quality threads—cotton, tencel, soy, bamboo, silk and chenille, in many colors. The weavers design their own projects and create outstanding hand-woven shawls, scarves, jackets and accessories for women and men. The weavers also participate in the governance of the organization, volunteering on the board of directors and assisting in key operations areas such as store and inventory management, quality control and event management. Tres Manos has created a strong network of women who work hard and advocate for themselves.
Upon completion of their initial training, the weavers earn 60 percent of the retail price of their garments when sold. They also earn $10 an hour mentoring new participants and teaching adult weaving classes. The organization has an on-site boutique in Mesilla, which is open every day except Monday. Tres Manos attends many festivals around the state and hosts the fall and spring Southern New Mexico Fiber Arts Festivals in Mesilla. The organization also presents fiber arts kids’ camps at the Las Cruces Boys and Girls Club, elementary schools and community centers in Doña Ana County. Many young girls and boys appreciate an opportunity to make something with their hands and simple materials, express their creativity and get away from their screens for a little while. When a young person recognizes the talent he or she has, it is empowering, sets the imagination free and encourages personal growth.
Many looms and threads have been donated to the program. Beginner and intermediate weaving classes attract people from as far away as Silver City and Santa Fe. Customers value the high-quality fashion statement a Tres Manos garment makes for both casual outfits and dressy occasions. They also appreciate that their purchase directly helps a low-income woman earn money to support her family. Tres Manos recently received certification from the New Mexico Tourism Department, highlighting that all of its handwoven products are “New Mexico True,” meeting the highest standards, and are 100 percent manufactured in New Mexico.
The creative economy offers new opportunities for organizations to help low-income women and girls to use their creativity, ambition and the power of their dreams to build life-, business- and technical skills. Tres Manos is a trailblazer in this effort. We welcome ideas and support so that we can expand our reach to more women in southern New Mexico and help other communities and organizations look to their creative roots and create more economic opportunities.
You can also visit in person at the Old Tortilla Factory, 1910 Calle de Parián in Mesilla or shop for Tres Manos garments on the Internet at www.etsy.com
Teresa Guerra is executive director of Tres Manos Weaving of New Mexico Inc. 575.644.6149, www.tresmanosweaving.org.