Our story
NISKUA MOLA COOPRATIVE has been born out of the serendipitous coming together of two dreams. One was the long-standing dream of 30 female artisans from the indigenous village Armila of politically autonomous zone of Guna Yala, Panama - to start a cooperative and share their craft of Mola textile with the world, but due to their isolated locаtion in the middle of the jungle, far away from any city, visitors, customers, resources and network, the dream has stayed as just a dream for over 15 years.

The other dream was a vision of a sustainable fashion and textile designer Alisa Ruzavina, who wanted to change the unfair under-representation of the real makers of textiles in the fashion world, and to find a way to build accessible connection to the authentic but often isolated story tellers and true masters of their craft , who have been passing skill from generation to generation fuelled by true heritage and knowledge. Thanks to the kind support from such great connecting organizations such as La Wayaka Current and British Council, the two dreams, two missing links for each other, got a chance to co-create their vision together.
People who help us with it
Craft of Mola
Women are considered to be the guardians and makers of Guna's indigenous culture, which is recognized around the world by the distinct design of Mola textiles – a unique multi layered applique method. Molas are the main element of female Guna traditional dress and is made only by women. This type of textile appears to have originated in the 1800, when the Guna people have started wearing robes with painting inspired by the traditional body painting, that according to the legend came to two sisters in their dreams.

The embroidery skill is passed on through the mother-grandmother relationship and occasionally through a close neighbor connection. Some Molas are made for special celebratory occasions, such as birth of child, marriage or community celebration – these are always hand stitched and have more complicated designs, they are often passed down generation to generation and are kept as precious records of memory.

Such molas are vital as Guna language is predominantly an oral culture, making these textiles the main form of visual recording of Guna's cultural identity and history. There are also "everyday" molas, which often have some elements stitched on the machine.

Molas are never thrown out – there is a great tradition of respect towards this craft within the culture. As molas come in standard set of two simple square panels of the blouse, when the blouse is worn out, the non-embroidered top is thrown out and new one is attached to the mola and the mola itself is fixed where needed. If the mola has served it's duty, it is then used in household – for table cloths, curtains, cushions, bed covers. Most molas are completely hand-sewn and can take anything from 2 weeks for the simple geometric ones to 4-6 months for the most complex and detailed scenery to make.

Сheck out this wonderful article recently published by Fashion Revolution zine written about the craft of mola and our cooperative :
Meet the artisans
Brigida Gonza
Cooperative director
Aida Martinez
Head manager
Gladis Arosem
Cooperative director
Beatriz Gonzalez
Cashier & secretary
Esilia Castro
Master embroiderer
Predespinda Quintero
Master embroiderer
Maristela Bolivar
Alina Arosemena
Adelaida Martinez
Arsenia Garrido
Benita Castro
Carnelis Martin
Etilbia Contrera
Desidelia Martinez
Marta Oris
Edelmira Castro
Melida Gonzlez
Enedelsi Evans
Olinda Espitia
Jessica Julio
Ludicia Averiguo
Luz Yeli Castro
Melisa Ortega
Yamileth Diaz
Artisan support
Alisa is a London-based sustainability-driven fashion and textiles designer. Alisa curates and composes the learning program for the artisans in accordance to the women's requests and needs, as well as helps the cooperative with planning trajectories for future development and outreach. She is also their design collaborator, sharing what she has learned from her professional and educative experiences, helping the women with creative development and correct positioning for international markets.

Alisa is also researching ways in which craft can be used as a tool for climate change education and action, for both the makers and the viewers, and the work with the cooperative provides ample space for such research. She is in constant contact with the community and tries to visit the community for short intensive trips at least twice a year.
ALISA RUZAVINA
Design Support, Artisan Collaborator & International Relationships
The project would not be possible without Nacho. He is the connector and the translator between the action towards growth and improvement of the cooperative and the women, many of whom do not speak Spanish.

Nacho is the key figure in helping to develop correct strategies suitable for the cooperative development, helping Alisa to compose the classes and programme in most efficient and comprehensive ways. Nacho is also the founder of the Leatherback Turtle Conservation Fund and action group of Armila village, being the leading expert in the community regarding all topics sustainability and environment.
NACHO CRESPO
Community leader, Conservation Activist, Translator & Organizer
The aim of the development and educational programme for the cooperative is to make sure that the artisans with time gain enough skills and experience to reach total autonomy and self-sufficiency when operating on a global market, while beings supported on their journey with professional input, coming from both local and international perspectives.

Programme constructed for the cooperative has several key directions as its points of focus:
CAPACITY BUILDING
CREATIVITY DEVELOPMENT
MARKET ACCESS
ASSET IMPROVEMENT
WORKING WITH FUTURE GENERATIONS
COMMUNITY & ACTIVISM
ENVIRONMENT CONSERVATION
SUSTAINABILITY IN MATERIALS