MZ: Fair Trade is the Way To Go

Conscious consumers already know the difficulties involved with identifying ethical produce during the weekly grocery shop, but one shopping area that gets neglected is clothing. Although the most sustainable option for clothing is to buy second hand, from local thrift stores for example, or to host clothes swaps, there are still times when you need to buy new clothes, and supporting ethical brands sends a positive message to ethical companies and brands that employ sweatshop labor. 

That said, the world of fashion is truly a fast one. Today, the industry is worth almost $1 trillion, with billions of garments consumed each year. It is unsustainable, bad for the earth, and bad for the millions of workers who make as low as $68 a month in countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia. Fair trade fashion aims to change this.

With the rise of fast fashion brands like H&M, TopShop and Zara, the pressure to deliver fast and cheap has been higher than ever. And when the pressure is on, brands who eschew the human element can easily be out of touch with their invisible, far away supply chain. In contrast, a company that follows the rules of fair trade is human-centered, transparent and accountable for their actions. One brand leading the fair trade charge is MZ (formerly Manos Zapotecas).

Founded in 2009 by Shelley Tennyson after volunteering for a non-profit in the small Zapotec village of Teotitlán del Valle, teaching business classes to female loan recipients; MZ is an ethical fashion brand that works with indigenous artisan communities who handcraft beautiful goods such as bags, clothing, rugs, and other accessories.

Tennyson was inspired to create the brand after realizing that no matter how exquisite the product, or how savvy their business skills, without buyers, these hardworking and skilled artisans were not able to support themselves or their families adequately.


MZ's impressive range of products are handmade by a collective of artisans in an indigenous community of Oaxaca, Mexico, called the Zapotec. Each MZ bag holds an element of discovery. From the significance of the Zapotec designs, to the bold color combinations, and most importantly, the distinct story of the artisan who wove it.

The collective creates natural dyes, weave the pieces by hand, and then carefully dye each of those woven pieces - a process deeply rooted in the Zapotec culture. Take a more in-depth look at the process in the video below:

How cool is it to know that the bag you’re wearing was made using ancient techniques that have been passed down through the generations? It feels like owning a piece of art rich with history and culture.

MZ's products center completely around sacred Zapotec designs and can be shopped by category:

The Diamond - The four points of the diamond represent the four elements of earth, air, water, and fire.

Lightning - The zigzag pattern represents lighting, which is connected to the ancient Zapotec god of lightning and rain, Cocijo.

Agave - The agave plant, or maguey as it is locally known, is integral to the central valleys of Oaxaca.

Mitla - This geometric spiral represents the life cycle, according to the Zapotec worldview. Each step represents a stage of life, beginning at birth, moving on through youth, maturity and then decay; followed by the other world.

Arrow - Arrows were important to the Zapotec people, as in many cultures, due to their importance both for hunting and warfare.


God's Eye - he Ojo de Dios is symbolic of the power of seeing and understanding the unseen. 

Butterfly - This design represents the wings, body, and antennae of a butterfly.

Monte Alban - These geometric pyramids represent those at the ancient Zapotec political and economic center, Monte Alban. 

It’s also important to know that the artisans making MZ products are fairly compensated and treated with respect. Learn about the mission and practices of MZ Fair Trade.


More than 40 million people work in the fashion industry – that’s a whole lot of people. When you shop fair trade, you know that every care was taken to make sure artisans are treated with dignity and respect so they can build better futures for themselves and their families. With any garment you purchase, try to think about the hands that held it, about the person who worked to create it. 

For more information and to shop the latest MZ collection, visit