Transforming A Culture Through Fashion


Emily Lane, Bret Schnitker, Lula Mena


October 24, 2022


Emily Lane 00:08 

Welcome to Clothing Coulture. I'm Emily Lane. 

Bret Schnitker 00:12 

I'm Bret Schnitker. 

Emily Lane 00:13 

We speak with experts where we explore the global dynamics that shape trends in the fashion industry, 

Bret Schnitker 00:19 

brought to you by Stars Design Group, a global production and design house with over 30 years of industry experience. 

Emily Lane 00:34 

Welcome back to another episode of Clothing Co ulture. Today we are going to be talking with Lula Mena and exploring the conversation of shifting a culture through fashion. Bret, are you excited? 

Bret Schnitker 00:46 

Oh yeah. I can't believe it's been a year since we've been to El Salvador. 

Emily Lane 00:51 

I know 

Bret Schnitker 00:52 

what a journey it's been. 

Emily Lane 00:53 


Bret Schnitker 00:55 

journey to nowhere. 

Emily Lane 00:58 

definitely had a wonderful journey to El Salvador on behalf of the CLDP program to help foster relationships and mentor companies in the textile and apparel industry in El Salvador. And we've had a lot of time over the last year developing relationships within that program and Lula has absolutely been one of those and absolutely, my personal favorite, 

Bret Schnitker 01:24 

I think every one of the trips, personal favorite. 

Emily Lane 01:27 

Yeah, Bret share a little background about how we, you know, our experience in becoming introduced to to Lula Mena amazing company. And then our Lula, we want to course walk into the conversation. 

Bret Schnitker 01:41 

Yeah, certainly, I think that, you know, for a long time, the United States government has really worked to establish trade with our neighbors. And you know, as part of CAFTA-DR, There's a big incentive, a duty free incentive to grow neighboring nations and the business between them. Honduras, Guatemala, have really leapfrogged in the apparel sector, and El Salvador seem to be kind of lagging behind, you know, previous governments didn't really believe in apparel, they really, or accessories, or, you know, those type of things, they really hoped they could leapfrog into technology. So there wasn't a lot of investment in El salvadorian. So I think, you know, the trip was for a group of experts, quote, I guess, all of us people that have been around made tons of mistakes and our paths, hopefully can, you know, understand the lay of the land there and have some, you know, healthy dialogue to hopefully bring El Salvador, you know, more in line with their neighboring nations in terms of apparel production and, and related items like Lula Mena doing a lot of amazing things down there. 

Emily Lane 02:50 

Yeah. So we spent a week traveling around and visiting all different, you know, businesses of shapes and sizes in this space and being shuffled around on a bus. And 

Bret Schnitker 03:01 

that was exciting. 

Emily Lane 03:02 

Early morning, 

Bret Schnitker 03:03 

early morning, no leg room. 

Emily Lane 03:06 

That's right. And towards the end of the trip, we we had the highlight, and that was walking into Lula your boutique, which was this just ray of light and peace and just this really extraordinary experience. It's just after getting to know you over the last year, it seems that it represents you so well. So welcome to this conversation. 

Lula Mena 03:33 

Thank you, Emily and Bret for having me here, It's a pleasure. It all begins when when I became a mother, actually, I it was the most beautiful thing that happened to me in my life, I never felt that kind of love before. It was like an amazing thing that was happening in my in my life. But at the same time I realized that I was it's a huge responsibility to have to have a human being that that's depending on you and that everything that it that you're going to do to say or to give her all the love that you're going to give that that children is is going to be the foundation of of a human being, you know, and realizing that and knowing that although the majority of the women in the wrong areas of my country did not have the opportunity to raise their children's because if they want an opportunity, I work opportunity they have to migrate to a city or they have to migrate to a state in a lot of cases. I was aware of that. And I wanted to to really give them the same opportunity that I was having as a mother to be with my children. And I believe it was what I what I created was Lula Mena Yeah. Where we, what I do in Lula Mena is that I train the women in the rural communities how to work with the products or the materials that they have around, I designed the product, I developed them, I trained them on how to do our designs, and then we, we sell those products in the national, international market. And in that way, we are able to give them a steady job that that really helps them to improve their lives. 

Bret Schnitker 05:30 

And you have a much bigger family now. All of these women, the entire walking through and seeing the story and what you've put together, I mean, every one of us, I think, was profoundly impacted by what you've done. I mean, you see it in, in everything that you create this care, and this community. I mean, it's more like family, I suppose. You know, I think, you know, one of the things that we talked about in this was maybe a few weeks ago, and it's been continuous through COVID is just all the challenges that you're dealing with a little bit, and what you're doing to continue your efforts with these, with this family, extended family that you've developed at Lula Mena, 

Lula Mena 06:14 

it has been a very challenging times as for everyone, you know, but as you're saying, we're kind of like a family, because before having any kind of relationship or any kind of production, we have to have a relationship. And he and it's like, we have to trust each other, you know, that when when, when you work with communities, of artisans or with women, for me, it's very important to really trust, it's the first thing that we have to have. And based on that, you really get to know the other part the other, the other person's you know, and and you became family, as you're saying, and in these times of COVID, the most important thing that we we really can rescue or we really can can, we really have been holding on is that communication between the women and in the rural communities and asking the city, you know, because that support support is everything. In a lot of cases, we weren't able to reach them because we weren't like close for eight month and and that was really hard, we weren't able to bring them the materials or to still train in them. But the connection that we have is so strong and and we have built this beautiful relationship during the years that that has helped us still continuing the relationship, and I'm finding out new ways of of going on and then continue doing the best we can do with what we have and where we are. And then in any situation that that that comes along, you know, 

Emily Lane 07:55 

One of the things that impressed me, so just upon the first introduction of of your of your work, we watched some of your videos, and in one of them interviewed some of the women that have experienced complete change in their lives because of the opportunity that that you've, you've provided for them. And I appreciate so much, you know, especially in a country where you, you know, there's there's challenges in every country, and certainly El Salvador's we've talked about has had, has had some and you know, opportunity for women is even more difficult. In here, you've created something that, you know, has really culturally shifted the dynamic for women there because for the first time in history, they're becoming the primary financial providers in these in these households. They're the ones that are buying homes and helping to make sure that their kids are going to school and what what a shift. 

Bret Schnitker 09:01 

And I think it extends further than that. When you really think about some of these fundamentals, business principles that Lula Mena is putting out, you know, we look to, you know, in running our organization, you know, you look at Lula and you say My god, these thought processes, what she thinks about in those relationships, you know, when we've, you know, in the US we've been trained culturally, that it's, you know, about the business and employees are a number. And, you know, we've tried to eliminate that within the organization here. I feel like, we've got a big family. But, you know, you look at what Lula has done in that country. And you look at what she's doing today, you know, through challenging times. And the point that she's made this whole trust, you know, the trust between, you know, her family and herself in this in this community of artisans. It's a pretty amazing thing. And I think, you know, worldwide company should take note, because, you know, let's not underplay what's coming out of Lula Mena You know, I mean, this isn't, you know, I've traveled the world, I've seen handicrafts. I've been to Haiti, and there's wonderful projects going on where people are pulling people into the community and doing some wonderful things. You walk into Lula Mena, Lula Mena, it could be at any shop or place in the world, and you would walk in and your mouth would drop. It's the quality of the product, the aesthetic level is amazing. And, you know, when you look at brands today, and you go, Okay, let's check the boxes, right? aesthetic check, you know, quality check, Social Care check, you know, you go down this list. And then sustainability, when you start to hear about, I think, Lula, we should talk about some of your collections, you know, that you've had this weaving hope and waves of hope, and what you've utilized, you know, using traditional weaving, you know, machines in the country, I'm going to shut up because I want to, I want to, you know, the audience to hear from you. But you know, we were just astounded. I mean, as we were draping tons of things over our arms to buy in your shop to bring home, we're just astounded at the level of skill. 

Emily Lane 11:17 

And she's she, she's combined these artisanal techniques with innovation. And so yes, tell us a little bit about maybe one of your first collections that started to embrace this sustainable materials and how, you know, what led you down that path. 

Lula Mena 11:36 

The first like, sustainable project that we developed was for this, the energy company hear In El Savador, they were uninstalling 60,000 energy meters. And that was a lot of waste materials, electronic materials, they used to pay the company here to recollect it and throw it away. And so we propose them our project in which we were using the that material, the copper threads, and from the energy, the Old Energy meters, but also my interest was not just to use that material, but to also make some contribute to rescue a little bit that the traditional techniques in my country because that's, that's one of my principles. So I proposed them, that we were training women on how to do the hand looms with the copper wire. And it was amazing, because we achieved it was a win win situation for all the people involved. We, as a designer, I had a very beautiful material, that is the copper wire, we were able to train for one year at a community of women on how to do traditional weaving, that that traditionally here is just made by men. So we were given them the women an opportunity to have a job in something that they are, we're not used to have. We were developing job opportunities, we were able to really rescue and have new and young people learn the traditional techniques. And with that, to continue with the traditional in a long way. We it was a really beautiful, beautiful project, also a food through developing all the copper collections, we were able to, to participate and to show our face of El Salvador in international trade fairs. In we were finalists in design contest around like international design contest, it was a really, really beautiful project. And it has such a big social impact also, not just not just the cultural part, but also to give them that opportunity to be able to have a steady job through this project, they were really able to to improve their lives and to become more independent in their communities. And the women that work in that project really now have like a voice and they are visible where they live, you know, and they can can now be like really beautiful and, and and and some other way to go for the new generations, you know, in the community. But I want to add something Emily and Bret before talking just about this collection that that is something really important for me and that has work very well is because I really have very clear why I do what I do. And having those five principles. Like really, really present every time every decision every day in my life. It has helped me develop all the projects, because for me, it's very important to have everything handmade. That is one of my principles. And that's because as I was telling you, the traditional techniques are really important because they are part of who we are as a country. And for me, that is really, really important. Also, everything is eco friendly, because then materials that we use, are natural, or reused as the copper wire that I was mentioned, 

Bret Schnitker 15:28 

Up-Cycling is the cool new term here.. 

Emily Lane 15:32 


Lula Mena 15:33 

We and because I mean, a lot of cases, we don't have any raw materials around in that case, what I do is, is to see to see what are the waste materials that they their communities having, like the fish scales on the the group of women that lives near the beach, that was the the waste materials that they have. And then also all the processes that we use to not harm the environment, we use very, very low quantities of water and electricity, the packaging is very important for us. And we also train the communities on how to do and how to use the natural resources in a very conscious way, you know, everything is is made to empower women, because as I was telling you, it was because I, if that's the why I do everything, what I do is to really, to really impact the life of the of the children. And and if the way that I can do it is giving their mothers our way of living our way of improving their lives. And through that impacting the life of their children's and their communities. And everything that I do I do it under fair trade conditions, because for me it's not it's, it's important for them not not just to survive from what they are doing. But really, that they can, can improve their lives, they 

Emily Lane 16:59 

can thrive 

Lula Mena 17:00 

four or three times more of their of what their husbands earn in the rural country. And that make them the main providers of their lives and allow them to take really important decisions in their lives. And that that's really beautiful. And, of course, innovation is our fifth principle. Because through design innovation through design, that's the way that I am able to, to develop or to have all the other four principles. Because if you really like the products, and if they can really be in any shop as you were tell us your same bread thing 

Bret Schnitker 17:40 

anywhere in the world. Yeah. 

Lula Mena 17:43 

That's it's the only way because the people is going to buy my products because you like them not because all the added value the all the other added values, you know, 

Bret Schnitker 17:53 

yeah, I think what's amazing is when you when you hear Lula talk about this brand stewardship that she has, you know, the word that comes to my mind is transformation. She transforms one object into another amazing object, she transforms people's lives. You know, willamina is transformation. And I think that a lot of businesses can really learn from Lula, you know, new entrepreneurs. We talk about brand stewardship, we talk about aligning goals, and keeping them with those certain guardrails, and you can be creative and have these kind of, you know, focused goals at the same time. 

Emily Lane 18:33 

Yeah, we have talked a lot about you know, those fundamentals in a business plan, understanding your brand vision and your mission and staying true to that, and Lula, you've certainly, you've done that from the beginning and continue to do so while innovating along the way. And I think that that is a really special thing. I love how one of your principles, honors the traditions of El Salvador, you have El Salvadorian pride. And as you should, it's a beautiful country that people are we've talked often about how much we loved everyone that we met there and, and you know, you are finding a way to kind of find these precious materials that not everybody realizes is precious, like the fish scales, what you've done with using fish scales and turning them into work of art. 

Bret Schnitker 19:21 

I love showing people yeah, cuz I'm like, What do you think it is? And they're like, I don't know, seeds, you know, whatever. And I say fish scales and the looks I get? Yeah, I mean, it's just like, what is that serious? I mean, it's the world is a fascinating place. Yeah. All over the world in seeing what artisans are doing with raw materials close to, you know, their hearts and close to their cultures. You know, it's such a great journey, but I got to tell you, this is the first time I've seen such amazing things built from fish gills. You're wearing those today, right? 

Lula Mena 19:56 


Bret Schnitker 19:57 

yes. What a very large fish on your ear 

Emily Lane 20:03 

What I have to ask is, you know, talking about some of those artisanal techniques and traditions that are that are a part of the heritage of El Salvador, I'd love to learn more about some of those. Some of those core traditions were familiar with Indigo being a part of the resource of the country and a technique that is is practice there, can you share some other traditions that your, that you love and are seeking to preserve and and weave into your design, 

Bret Schnitker 20:37 

no play on words, weaving into right 

Emily Lane 20:39 

there was a play on words. of course. 

Lula Mena 20:45 

Speaking about indigo, it was the first sixth time of my career After I graduate from school. From the University, I work in the national and international in the reactivation of the Indigo Group here El Salvador. Indigo was a really huge and important part for us during the colony times before the coffee, we used to be that that was our main export product. And we lost it was like a dead tradition here. And my in my first job, I had the opportunity to work on the on the rescue of this of the crop of the extraction of the powder, and how to apply the powder to the to the handcrafts. And it really, it was an amazing opportunity. Because for me what before anything, I had to learn that traditional technique from El Salvador, I learned it from a Japanese teacher, because we're here in El Salvador, knew anymore how to dye with 

Emily Lane 21:55 


Lula Mena 21:56 

powder. So it was an amazing experience, because nothing was written. Also, we didn't have like a book on how to extract the powder from the plants give you an example. So we have to interview the all the craftsmen people, or you're the old men who the youngest one was 92 years old. I was like, please, information before and 

Bret Schnitker 22:24 

and quickly. and quickly, it's 92. Yeah. 

Lula Mena 22:30 

Incredible. And it was really, we really had an amazing time, like talking to people, which I love really to know the history. And they they in those times, they had like a magic around them. Because they were the ones they are called potatoes. And they are the ones who know the exactly amount or when to extract the water from the leaves. So do you have a beautiful blue color. So all that experience was really nice and really put me in a in a really close view or I had a I experienced from the by firsthand, you know, how the rural communities lived here in El Salvador, because it's not the same that you see them from afar, or from your car, or from the city that you leave that that really go into our rural communities and talking to the people and knowing how they leave and how, how all that the traditional, the traditional type passed from one one mother to another. And it was for me, it was really amazing. And the more I knew from my traditional trade techniques, the more I loved El Salvador, and the more I felt proud of my country, and the things that really comes from from long time ago, you know, and in a way I wanted through my work, that's what I try to do, I want to express all that proud of being Salvadorians. And that we we should value the from, from where we come from, you know, and to show you what we are and with pride in in a way so. So Indigo was my first passion and years of the project we were able to now we can say that it's an alive tradition. Again, you can go around and see that everyone is dying with Indigo. And that's a beautiful thing to to have again in our country. And 

Emily Lane 24:36 

how amazing that must feel to know that you've been a part of the revitalization of that technique in your country. 

Lula Mena 24:43 

Yes, it's, it's it's really beautiful. And also, the traditional technique of weaving. We are all a lot of our basketry or a lot of our traditional techniques are disappearing because the young people don't want to learn Any more to traditional techniques because they don't really, they don't really can earn money from that, you know, that's why when we work with a community or we train in a traditional technique, we really pay them well for that handwork so that they really get interest the young people, the only way to preserve the traditional technique is because you really can make a living out of it, not because I it's beautiful, let's conserve it because it's part of our tradition. 

Bret Schnitker 25:28 

Sure, there's an economic to it, for sure. That was amazed of being in the jungle and watching that Indigo technique and seeing how they were harvesting other colors from different plants in the jungle and I believe that they had mentioned that Japanese Professor 

Emily Lane 25:43 


Bret Schnitker 25:43 

who I think spent some time there. And he actually walked away with a book about natural dyeing using things in the jungle and I don't know, it was just completely It was very hot in the jungle. But what's very fascinating though, for sure, 

Emily Lane 25:57 

so, you practice a lot of the natural dyeing techniques from other plants as well don't you? 

Lula Mena 26:03 

Yes, after after getting involved with Indigo, I, I fell in love with all the plants and the colors and the things that you can play around with and and have colors from that from those than the natural leaves and seeds and fruits. So, I really became like, I my speciality specialization was on that on natural dyes. And I actually work with a Japanese and also teacher who was here for a long period because the the Indigo project part was a national project, we were able to bring the government to work with us and all the NGOs, it so the Japanese people whereas some were helping to develop this project and there was this Japanese teacher here as a volunteer It was a volunteer actually it was a woman and and we make a research on how to die with mango leaves how to die with cottony how to that, you know, we have so many things that you can die with natural things that you can die here it it's it's it's amazing. So for me it was like playing playing to cook with plants and obtaining beautiful colors. And now we have here now in Lula Mena long, a lot of years later, I use those that knowledge to die and then we have a line of products specially keeps close and clothes for women and dyed with natural plants. 

Emily Lane 27:49 

Are you thinking about writing a book someday? Because this is a lot of unique knowledge that you have. And as you've mentioned, that a lot of these techniques are orally shared or hands on training and not necessarily captured in, in, in, in books. 

Lula Mena 28:07 

It will be beautiful, really, one of my dreams is to one day to really have like a really beautiful coffee table book made out of how are the plants where you are plants die in plants from El Salvador, something like that, you know, with the beautiful products at the same time, it will be beautiful to have. Because for my books here or or where you can really find the information. It's just overall everything is well. 

Emily Lane 28:39 


Bret Schnitker 28:40 

I want to talk about what am I like I loved everything in your shop. But I walked into this room. And I felt like I was transported to another planet these things called nietos. So I first of all, I had to kind of figure out what they were because they were amazing. That's just at first glance you think they're there's beautiful pieces of art, but they have a hell of a lot more meaning to them just 

Emily Lane 29:07 

want to touch every single one. 

Bret Schnitker 29:10 

Yeah, well, you can't touch them, they told you not to touch them, 

Emily Lane 29:13 

I took a lot of pictures. 

Bret Schnitker 29:21 

So tell us about these amazing pieces of art. 

Lula Mena 29:27 

That was some very, very nice collection for me in in in in a personal way. You know, it was my first art collection. And I use art as a tool of an agent of social change. Also that was the purpose that that to show that through art we also can use it to give jobs and to to to preserve threatened traditional techniques and to have these beautiful amazing art pieces but but with a meaning. behind it. So for a year, I was able to produce to design and to to produce this 18 pieces that are nests, and hand woven with copper wire with fish gills with the leftovers of leather. Any, we have so many different mat upcycled we use materials and and they hand and traditional techniques involved in all these pieces, that it was beautiful, the process of creating them was a gift for me, because I was able to work on them with other 30 women for a year, not you know, working on that no thinking about pricing, or reproduction because there were unique cases each of them. So for me, it was like it's so beautiful, just creating, to create to create something beautiful, and at the same time to to help all these great group of women that were 30 women that we were training and, and working and developing together. So that was the result of this exhibition, it was they are 18 pieces, made with love and joy, it that's the thing. And the next part here is that there are art pieces, but you can actually use them. And the concept is that I'm inviting you to sit on the nest to get in touch with you, you know, and then reburn from the nest in and work yeah, 

Emily Lane 31:44 

they have a very cocoon like feel so I can see that would be a Yeah, I can see transformation happening as a result of spending time being cuddled by the nest and then reflecting and 

Bret Schnitker 31:59 

these are small, I mean, they're seven foot tall, and I don't know, two three feet around, I mean, and the room was full. They were just astounding. You know, if I say it, once I say it 100 times walking into Lula Mena space, you're transported to this different place. It's a place of love and care, beautiful aesthetic, unbelievable. artisinal design, you know, how she's managed to think about, you know, tradition, and then technology and transformation, you know, taking all of those things, taking these, you know, these kind of traditional methods and really evolving processes to create these amazing things I I urge everyone to go is at so please go to Please buy her out of good so she can make so many more beautiful things. It's just, you'll go and you'll look at I don't you keep changing the site and there's just more amazing stuff and more amazing stuff. You clearly love what you do. It's just incredible. 

Lula Mena 33:05 

That's the amazing thing Bret and I feel so blessed you know to be able to work in something that I love the I love my work and coming here and and creating things and at the same time knowing that doing something that I really love being able to impact in impact the lives of other women and children. It's so fulfilling that it's I just feel that I'm blessed and probably that's what you feel when you come in here you'll feel all these 

Bret Schnitker 33:36 

Yes, we feel it 

Emily Lane 33:38 

has great energy. So before we wrap today's conversation I have one final question. Post COVID what do you see for your your next evolution or innovation or project? 

Bret Schnitker 33:56 

What do you bring up? what's coming down the road? 

Lula Mena 34:01 

You know, I I'm always like, looking at the world in a positive way. So I'm always hopeful and and that's the way I see the future. It's like, okay, we are not able to sell a lot in our country anymore as we used to sell here by we can sell internationally. And I think that post COVID in a way I don't know if you agree with me guys, but we all as human beings are more like conscious of what we are consuming and why do why we do the things that we do. And and I think that slowly that market is growing and that's our market. That's the market that we really are interested in. The people who really know are aware that by choosing something that by choosing or buying something that you want it You can also impact the life of other people. You know, like small actions, daily actions can really impact the lives of others. And so I'm super hopeful of that. And I have plans of working with more communities, more women, playing with more techniques and putting my my small action every day to do to do what I can. The best way I can. 

Bret Schnitker 35:28 

Well, we're here as your cheerleader squad and voice to whoever's listening out there, that please go to support her the stuff is amazing. You've you've had it, there have been people that have worn it in con and they're also I guess, Academy awards. I mean, I'm telling you it's it's amazing. 

Emily Lane 35:52 

Yeah, I think your vision for the future is so represents you so well and also the needs of of of where consumers are going everybody is wanting authenticity and connection and I think you're you're right on point it with embracing that with with some optimism I I love Lula that you started this journey as a mother thinking about how can I create a better future for other mothers out there and was clear to me is that you are, you know, you're a mother in your family. You're a mother to art and innovation and design and community and cultural change. I applaud you so much for that we look forward to seeing what's next for you and to continue to collaborate with you as well. For anyone out there who wants to see more of Lula Mena, of course, go to her website. But we will also have photos of what we experienced and saw upon our visit to El Salvador on our blog for the for for this for this podcast. So thank you so much for joining us today on this episode of Clothing Coulture and make sure to subscribe to stay apprised of upcoming episodes. 

Bret Schnitker 37:08 

Thanks, Lula. 

Lula Mena 37:10 

Thank you 

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Transforming A Culture Through Fashion