Skip to content
Unlocked: Weaving The Future Together

Unlocked: Weaving The Future Together

How female empowerment is shaping the work of Mexican textile artist Sonia Rafful

The saying goes that behind every great man there is a great woman. Well, we prefer to say that behind every great woman there’s another great woman… or several!

March is Women’s History month, but for us at the Nopo, history is being made every day by the inspiring women artisans we get to meet. Using their skills and talent to not only preserve their culture and heritage but to make an impact on the lives of many others in their communities.

This week we caught up with Sonia Rafful of Rafful Estudio, who has recently joined the Nopo family from her textile workshop in Mexico City. An industrial designer by training, Sonia became interested in textile art and macramé whilst in Barcelona on a placement for six months. She returned to Mexico excited about the untapped potential of the craft she had discovered almost by chance.

“My parents weren’t so happy about me leaving a full-time job and a safe income to start my own brand… And in all honesty, I was pretty nervous too! I definitely doubted myself at the beginning, but then I thought: ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’”

The worst - the brand folding and Sonia having to find a new job - didn’t happen, while the best most certainly did. Sonia created Rafful Estudio primarily as a means for her own artistic expression and to give herself the time and space to experiment with all things textile. She began selling her first creations off Instagram and soon gathered enough momentum to start renting her own studio in Mexico City and quit her full-time job for good. Branding and a logo came soon after, and Rafful Estudio was born.

“When the pandemic hit, I felt my calling even more strongly. I didn’t want to just make pretty wall hangings and plant hangers, my work transformed into a real mission to create beautiful objects of comfort, to make people’s lives at home better.”

When people suddenly found themselves stuck at home staring at their walls, they quickly found that those walls needed filling up. Orders soared and Sonia realized she couldn't manage the demand on her own anymore. It was time to hire help.

Shop Estudio Rafful Collection

Around the same time, she learned of an amazing foundation called La Cana through a mutual acquaintance. La Cana is a social enterprise that seeks to create job opportunities for women in prison, through the implementation of programs and workshops aimed at their personal development, as well as the development of vocational skills that help to keep women safe and in employment once they get out of prison. By promoting a positive reintegration of women inmates, who are often victims of prejudice and discrimination once back in free society, La Cana contributes to reducing rates of recidivism and delinquency across Mexico.

Headed by an all-women team, La Cana works in four prisons in the state of Mexico, organizing vocational training in textile arts & crafts, providing emotional and psychological support, leading follow-ups with women after they've completed their sentence, and actively campaigning and advocating for much-needed reforms of the judicial system and improvement of prisons living conditions. Since 2016, the foundation has empowered hundreds of women and helped them believe in themselves, as well as equipping them with practical skills they can use, once free, to generate income and support themselves and their families.

Inspired by La Cana's mission, Sonia contacted the foundation with the intent of hiring a female ex-prisoner. She was put in touch with Isabel*, who served time in the Nezahualcóyotl Sur jail in the State of Mexico. While in prison, Isabel had trained with the foundation in textile weaving and embroidery and was eager to learn more.

“At the beginning, it was a bit strange to tell Isabel what to do because she could be my mom!” Sonia laughs, before adding: “But from the outset, our relationship was incredibly natural and easy. I absolutely don’t see her as an employee, most days we spend eight hours at the studio, working together on new designs, refining techniques, preparing the materials. It’s amazing to know that I can leave the studio in safe hands if I need to.”

Although Isabel has to travel three hours each way to get to the studio, collaborating with Sonia has brought a breath of fresh air - and more importantly a legal full-time salary - into her life. Since working with La Cana first, and with Sonia after, Isabel has a newfound belief in herself and her abilities. She’s been able to support her children with her job and feels more empowered as an independent woman able to stand on her own two feet.

“When you get out of prison your job prospects are close to zero. People in society are scared of those who served time, there is an assumption that we are all bad people and not worthy of help or trust. The truth is that we are even more scared of going back into society and we need all the support we can get.”

For the last six months, Sonia and Isabel have been working together in the studio creating beautiful textile art and both have high hopes to continue doing so in the future. Sonia hopes to upscale her production as much as possible, to hire more women like Isabel and help them reboot their lives after jail.

“Isabel's story could be a real motivation for women inmates,” Sonia said, “And I do hope that once life gets back to normal I will be able to do training with inmates, to show women that they can and must believe in themselves and their own strength, that there is real hope for a better future after prison.”
*Name has been changed for privacy reasons.
Previous article The Nopo’s Arianna Meschia riding off on a 116-year-old adventure