Friday, June 14, 2024

Born during the isolation of lockdown, Mexico City store unites women

“I believe that the one thing that has helped me during the most painful and difficult moments of my life as a woman has been other women,” says Regina Gómez Iturribarria, founder of Mujeres Incendiarias (Incendiary Women). “So, with this project, what could be better than being surrounded by talented women?”

The Mujeres Incendiarias home base — simultaneously a shop, a collaborative space, and a lecture center — sits on a normally bustling residential street in Mexico City’s Juárez neighborhood. It’s currently shuttered because of the city’s Covid-19 lockdown. On a recent Thursday afternoon, however, Gómez and her partner Irene Pedrós Bretos are organizing inventory and gearing up to open as soon as restrictions are lifted.

Birthed from the pandemic, Mujeres Incendiarias was originally one woman’s anonymous siren song to the world during lockdown. Gómez started sharing personal texts about femininity and womanhood on the Mujeres Incendiarias Instagram page that she started at the beginning of 2020, as well as working with female illustrators to give her writings some visual context.

The project started to expand beyond Gómez’s musings when she hosted her first workshop on feminist theory for some friends interested in the topic. Pedrós participated virtually from across the ocean in Spain and reached out to her friend afterward, insisting that she should start a space for workshops and other women-led events in Mexico City. Gómez had plans to come back to Mexico for work and wanted to be involved.

“If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, it’s totally possible that both of us would be somewhere else,” Gómez says. “Irene might be working in a bank. I would be working on my master’s research. Our lives would be totally different. We had the great privilege to have time to think, to say, ‘OK, it would be really beautiful to give literally all my energy to this project.'”

All items for sale at the store were made by women.
All items for sale at the store were made by women.

The pandemic did hit hard, but the project’s momentum was already unstoppable. Gómez and Pedrós wanted to create a real physical space where women could gather and then imagined filling it with books by female authors and art by female artists. That list expanded to include the 80-plus women-owned brands displayed in the store now.

The simple wood and iron shelves of Mujeres Incendiarias contain one-of-a-kind illustrations, craft beer, handmade ceramic vaginas, women’s clothing, jewelry, curio boxes, journals and beer steins shaped like the naked top half of a woman. The cozy lecture space at the back of the store is currently home to an art exposition from Casa Equis, an art gallery that went mobile when the pandemic forced them to close their permanent space. This roving art exhibit is all the work of female artists.

“It’s really difficult to maintain a space, pay the rent, deal with all that implies — taxes, a thousand things. They are things that all our lives we were told were not for women, that we shouldn’t try to do as women,” Gómez says. “It’s a challenge, even more so in a pandemic, but it has meant so much to me that there are so many of us involved.”

Mujeres Incendiarias’ workshops and lectures have gone online during lockdown, bringing women together virtually for topics as wide-ranging as traditional herbal medicine, tattooing, an academic analysis of romantic love. Their shop is also online these days, with the women of the various brands represented at the space helping with the heavy lifting of publicizing the website and the project.

“We have done surprisingly well. Our store is open for pickups and by appointment, and the workshops online have drawn tons of participants,” Gómez says.

In a country known for its violence against women, a safe space for women to be together, to share their experiences and learn from one another is fundamental, she says.

Collage art piece on display in the store.
Collage art piece on display in the store.

“When you find a safe place, where you can share the things that have happened to you, the things that hurt you, what makes you vulnerable, where you can empty yourself out and tell your story and talk with other women, it’s just really beautiful … to feel accompanied,” she says.

Gómez and Pedrós have also been able to support their sister artists and artisans in another concrete way — by teaching them the ins and outs of business through their own trial and error.

“As women —the idea of starting a something, a business — they never teach us that we can do that too. It’s been a huge challenge for Irene and me: we had to register with the SAT [Mexico’s income tax agency] and provide receipts. Honestly, one day we just cried because it was like ‘I have no idea,’ and no one had ever actually explained this to us. I was frustrated and afraid to pay taxes, thinking that they were going to take all my money,” Gómez says.

But now the two laugh at how a Spanish immigrant is teaching Mexicans how the tax system works in Mexico, and in their attempts to support the development of other women in business they’re also encouraging the women they work with to price their products appropriately and fight for their brands.

“I tell them, ‘It’s your work, it’s your idea, it’s the time it took you to do it! Don’t put it at 50 pesos!’” Gómez says.

In a year when so many of us have felt cut off from each other, a beautiful community has blossomed among the women of the Mujeres Incendiarias that was unexpected even by its founders. As the world gets back to some semblance of normal, Regina, Irene and the women they work with all have high hopes of how this project will evolve post-pandemic.

Lydia Carey is a regular contributor to Mexico News Daily.

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