The first time I encountered the woven bags from Hecho & Co., I was struck by the beauty of the weaving, the crispness of the texture, the fine-detailing of the designs, and the stunning aesthetic. These bags are made in a small town in the state of Oaxaca, by a family of master weavers. The origin story of Hecho & Co. is incredibly serendipitous in nature. I sat down with Sam, one part of the textile brand, Hecho & Co., to talk about the business, ethical and transparent sourcing, travel, and the beauty of following your heart.
It all started with a trip to Mexico
On a quintessential undergrad backpacking trip, Sam ventured to Mexico to explore and see the world. She had a ticket into Mexico City and a ticket out of Cancun, with two months to explore Mexico and Central America. Despite the fears from her friends about travelling solo through Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize, Sam persisted, knowing that Mexico was more profound than the scary news headlines and murmurings from friends. When she landed in Oaxaca, she recalls how magical and impressive it felt compared with other places she’s travelled. It became immediately apparent the beauty of the textiles and handmade crafts of the country.
Upon finishing her degree in Education, she started working as a teacher. During her first summer vacation, she had the choice of teaching summer school or exploring the world. On top of this, the small business bug was going around, and a number of her friends were building side hustles, so why shouldn’t she try it out too? With plans to head back to Mexico already in motion, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to hatch a plan and look for handcrafted and unique objects to bring back and sell in Vancouver. The last piece of the puzzle bringing her sister into the fold, who happily agreed.
Follow that bag
It all started with a bag. After trying to build a relationship with a wholesaler in Mexico, Sam parted ways to go directly to the source. After asking around for some recommendations, she met a man who agreed to take her to some local weavers; however, when it came time to go, he never showed up. Frustration led her to the local market for food, and that’s when she saw it, the bag that would lead her to Lucy and the beginnings of Hecho & Co.
The story of how they met is incredible; you might venture to say the stars were aligned. Unable to connect with Lucy online, Sam took a one-hour taxi ride to the village to see if she could track her down, upon arrival she started asking people if they knew Lucy, which of course they did, and they directed her down a narrow rocky road. The taxi was unable to navigate the way, so she had to go at it alone and just as she arrived at the gate, a woman walks out holding a donkey. She introduced herself and asked for Lucy, and the woman responds, ‘I’m Lucy,’ and the rest is history. They instantly connected and even worked on the first bag designs that day.
“It’s all about developing that relationship and understanding the origins of the product. The whole culture behind it, it’s hard to sell something— well it’s not hard people do it all the time— but to me, it’s hard to sell something unless you truly understand where it’s coming from and the story behind it.”
With a shared passion for education, this partnership was more than just beautiful handwoven bags; it became a collaboration between two women, the meeting of two minds, and the cross-cultural exchange of ideas.
To maintain a stable relationship with Lucy and the weavers’ Sam goes back once a year to hang out and spend time with the producers, “I help as much as I can, I’ll trim the palms, do whatever I can around the house. But, it’s all about developing that relationship and understanding the origins of the product. The whole culture behind it, it’s hard to sell something— well, it’s not hard people do it all the time— but to me, it’s hard to sell something unless you truly understand where it’s coming from and the story behind it.”
On her most recent trip, she learned that “the patterned bags, the ones that have a black and white pattern, so the black, I always thought that they dyed it. But, they smoke pine needles from the surrounding area and smoke fresh green palm because if you use dry palm, it’ll get too brittle… burning freshly cut green palms creates that beautiful black colour, which comes from the smoke. These are the subtleties you miss if you don’t spend the time getting to know the process.”
The design process
When you were coming up with the designs, were you trying to stick to something that is done and built and then add subtleties or did you come up with something wildly different?
“The first time, I based it on what they were able to do and make small tweaks and mish-mash things they already had, but that would also be functional, unique, and beautiful. The product is already unique, so it makes it easy, but as the years have progressed, I have attempted crazier designs just because that’s what I like to do, and it’s cool. Lucy is open to trying different designs and concepts.”
“I am currently in the process of designing a bucket bag that is woven in a different technique and playing with patterns. Every time I create something, it takes like two years before I am happy with it and feel comfortable enough with it to start selling it. So, there is a new backpack I am designing, and the design process comes with strong relationships and understanding of each other and having confidence in each other. Now, I’m getting into more and more unique designs, but it wasn’t like that in the beginning.”
“Ethical production isn’t just about paying a fair price; it’s about how we treat and interact with the artisans. In the beginning, I had only known the weavers, so I would propose a design and they would agree to it and then as long as both parties were happy, that was my goal.”
The core values of Hecho are a rejection of long-standing systemic problems within the fashion industry, such as poor labour conditions, lack of social compliance, environmental degradation, waste, and lack of transparency. Choosing instead to pursue transparency and ethical production as key pillars to their business, “ethical production isn’t just about paying a fair price; it’s about how we treat and interact with the artisans. In the beginning, I had only known the weavers, so I would propose a design and they would agree to it and then as long as both parties were happy, that was my goal.”
Ethical business practices
What does it mean to be an ethical business? At Hecho & Co., the overarching theme is handmade goods, predicated on an ethics-based business model. Working directly with the artisans ensures transparency, dialogue, and collaboration are central to the relationships that Sam builds with the weavers. Critical to establishing relationships with the makers is having respect for them, their processes, their culture, and their way of life. Since the beginning, Sam would spend time with the weavers to understand what a typical day is like for them, while also gaining more in-depth knowledge about the production process.
“We felt that as women and visible minorities, we didn’t feel represented and we wanted to do our little part in creating our business that we can address both of these issues.”
In addition to transparency and ethical production, representation within the fashion industry is another key pillar to the brand. As Sam explains, “We felt that as women and visible minorities, we didn’t feel represented, and we wanted to do our little part in creating our business that we can address both of these issues.”
One of the ways she creates visibility and inclusion is through photography, specifically using female photographers, many of whom are her friends. By giving women the chance to showcase their skills, while developing the Hecho brand, Sam builds community and a collaborative spirit. This idea of representation extends back to Lucy, the weaver and partner in Mexico. Lucy comes from a family of master weavers, but weaving is not a primary source of income for the family, however, they have been invited to museums all over the city to lead workshops on weaving.
When it comes to the production of the bags, many factors influence the process. Although there is a demand for these bags, production is limited to the capacity of the weavers. Lucy’s priority is “not to make a tonne of money and sell a million bags; they weave because it is part of their Mixteca identity and culture, which means I can’t ask her for a hundred bags because I have a wholesaler that needs them in three months.”
“Part of Hecho is about creating awareness of Mexican culture and indigenous Mexican culture.“
The environmental conditions and seasonality are incredibly nuanced. As a result, the bags have to be woven at a precise time of day, “early in the morning and evening because the afternoon air is too dry and the palms become too brittle, or the time of year (not the rainy season).” These are important yet, subtle factors that affect the production of handmade goods, so when we come to values and ethics, if we don’t understand these things, then we create friction.”
Part of the Hecho ethos is “about creating awareness of Mexican culture and indigenous Mexican culture. I am creating that awareness and respect because we are so close [geographically]. There’s such little understanding, and that is one of my dreams… So, it means I need to get better at the business side of things. Get real about money. Money sucks, but it can allow you to do so many more things. I’ve had the luxury of being a teacher and not having to worry about it, but realistically if I want it to be a real business, I need it to be able to pay for my life also.”
What’s next for Hecho & Co.?
The future of Hecho and Co. is wide open as Sam continually develops new concepts and designs for the bags. She is also moving to Amsterdam with her partner, which will present new opportunities for growth in the business and creative process. However, as a business owner, you are regularly presented with choices. As Sam notes, “Earlier this year, I was going through a lull over the business, I didn’t know if I wanted to keep doing it and I didn’t know where my life was going, and I was going through a lot of transitional things. I just adopted a dog, life was getting crazy, and I didn’t know. And then, I got the fire back being back in Mexico; I got back into it and realized, yes, I am passionate about this… And when I get to Amsterdam, I am not going to have a full-time job, so it’s going to be the perfect opportunity to throw myself into it.”
Digging into the travel side of things, I asked Sam about solo travel?
One time I was wandering through Chipas, through San Cristobal de las Casas and this person started a conversation with me, we talked for an hour about the environmental degradation that’s happening in the surrounding area. It stuck with me that you could hang out and chat, and that’s why I love travelling by myself. You open yourself up to these opportunities.
On being a Vancouverite
How long have you lived in Vancouver?
I was born here. I have lived here all my life, I’ve travelled a lot, but I always come back.
Do you ever get Vancouver fatigue? Is that a thing? I don’t, but my sister does. I have many hobbies, and I love being alone like I’ve been in a relationship for two years, but before that, I was single for like seven/eight months, and I loved it. I could stay home all day and sew, and I would be content. I could walk to the coffee shop with Augi and be so happy; I love it here. I also mountain bike, I hike, I rock-climb, so there are endless things to do. Shopping here is terrific, there’s always cool shops to check out.
Where was the last place you went shopping?
The most recent place I shopped at was Community Thrift, the one next to Nelson the Seagull. I love this place so much. Every time I go there, I buy something. But they are fibre oriented, which I love. So, they’ll have a section of linens, cashmere, like they understand, to me that is a person who understands how to sort through clothes. I used to love thrifting in college, but now I can’t stand it, for example, going into Value Village with the smell and having to look through so many racks of stuff. I love going to Community for that. However, I find that many of my clothes are from Mexico.
How would you describe the culture in Vancouver?
I don’t know. I’m a Chinese Canadian, so I see two different sides. I love the Chinese part of Vancouver; I love going into those small herbal shops, or a bakery, a restaurant and speaking Cantonese. The ladies are cute and helpful, and I love that side of it — so much of this is part of my identity. I love the entrepreneurial spirit here, and I love the outdoor community. However, when it comes to the ‘friendly-vibe’ in the city this can be a point of contention. For example, when you go to cool places such as a coffee shop, I won’t name names, we love them, and we go there all the time, the food is excellent, the coffee is unique, but why do the people working there have to be assholes? We are going in all the time, it’s busy, it’s successful, it doesn’t hurt to just be polite. It’s like a culture of a fishbowl; everybody has shifty eyes looking at each other, but nobody is talking to each other, and nobody knows how to break the ice. There are some neighbourhoods where people do say “Hello” and “Good Morning,” so there are pockets of friendliness.
What do you love about Vancouver?
I love the outdoor spaces, especially now having a dog.
Do you have a favourite outdoor spot you like to go to? Pacific Spirit Park, we try to go there every day. I hate driving; I wish we lived closer. I love being here, but I wish it was closer. Greg and I would go right after work, I would pick him up from work, and then we would go straight there and walk for an hour with Augi. It’s the perfect way to decompress, no matter the weather.
How would you describe Vancouver in three words? Green, delicious, and quaint. It still feels small to me.
Do you have a favourite neighbourhood? This one might be my favourite neighbourhood, Mount Pleasant. I live in MP. It’s the perfect combination of quiet streets, families, and dogs, but still, like everything you need and you’re close to the water.
When it comes to food and drinks, what are your favourite spots?
- Kissatanto is our favourite fancy place, it’s like where we go when we have something to celebrate.
- Six Acres, I’ve been going to since it opened. I remember in the beginning, the restaurant had board games, and I could spend hours playing backgammon there. It’s like the perfect place to have good food, drinks, and hang out. It’s cozy, and in the summer, they have the patio, and it’s lovely the winter.
- The downstairs of Alibi Room, if you want to get a bit rowdier, is fabulous for a big group to hangout.
- I love all the noodles and sushi places. I want to say Shiro is our most solid place, on Cambie and 15th. I feel like the same people run it as Toshi. It’s mid-range, you never have to wait too long, but the quality is excellent.
- We’ve been going to Carp for our weeknight take-out. It’s a tiny little sushi joint right next to Kingsgate mall, delicious. It’s walkable; we can bring our containers and get sushi there. And they do Japanese curry.
If you had one piece of advice to visitors coming to Vancouver, what would it be? Where you choose to stay is essential, it’s going to shape your experience. So, if you stay somewhere downtown, your experience will be very different than if you stayed somewhere in Kits. Or, in Mount Pleasant. So, know what kind of traveller you are and what you like because there is something for everybody, but you need to know what you like. If you want to be near the beach or forest, stay in Kits, so you can walk to those places. If you love breweries and cute indie shops, then stay in Mount Pleasant. If you want more of a hippie vibe, go down to Commercial Drive.
What would you recommend to take home as a souvenir from Vancouver? If you’re a beer person, go to breweries and pick something unique that your city might not have. I think that might be fun if you’re not just doing carry— on that’s a good thing from Vancouver. The labels are beautiful, you can keep it as a souvenir, but you can share it with your friends. All of my favourite things, that are things in Vancouver are food or drinks.
When you go travelling elsewhere, do you ever look for something to take home? No. Clothes are my souvenirs. It has to be functional; I’m not a trinkets person, I will buy art, I am an impulsive art buyer. So, if something is like beautifully made, I’ll be like yup I need that in my life. There are skulls on the wall, which we bought in Mexico City at a charming shop, they tell the story of different seasons in the village. One is a harvest; one is a wedding. Buy the thing that jumps out at you and make sure it is functional in your life. That’s why I think beer is excellent; you can keep the bottle if you want.