Having dreamt of Colombia for many years, Kate Wrigley first moved to Bogota as an architect in 2017. Falling in love with the country’s diverse craftsmanship, she started The Colombia Collective in 2019 as a way of sharing her favourite pieces with designers and enthusiasts in the UK. Just back from another Colombian adventure, scouting new crafts and techniques for her newest collection for The Colombia Collective, Kate Wrigley gave us the inside track on what’s hot in Colombia now.
1. What first drew you to Colombia?
Colombia is somewhere that has always had this magical aura for me. Growing up, a friend of my father’s would tell stories of adventures from his regular business trips to the country that for some reason stayed with me.
After school I managed to find a job teaching English in Argentina and fell totally in love with the country, the culture, the music, the language, and most of all the people. I had well and truly caught the Latin America bug!
Yet Colombia still had this lure about it, but I was utterly determined that if I ever got there, it would not be as a tourist. A few years and an architecture degree later, I was working as an urban design consultant in London when I stumbled across a book called ‘Happy City’ by Charles Mongomery. First page, first chapter: ‘The Mayor of Happy’— what can only be described as a love letter to the Mayor of Bogotá, Enrique Peñalosa. Building bike lanes before highways, parks and plazas before high-rises, making the city happier before higher. I was in love. I knocked on every door and filled every inbox with my dreams of moving to Colombia, but, as expected, lots of smiles and even more dead ends. Months later, once I had surrendered to my fate as a London 9-5er, an email popped up in my inbox:
‘Hello Kate, I understand you would like to spend some time working with us….
Before I had any idea what had happened, I was on a plane to Colombia to start my new life at the Mayors Office… and the rest is history!
2. Tell us about your inspiration behind starting The Colombia Collective.
Whilst working at the Mayor’s office, a family friend in London reached out to me after hearing I was out in Colombia, to help her find some placemats and baskets that she was looking to source for her interior design shop. After weeks of asking around, I finally discovered that the pieces were made in a small town just outside Barranquilla. A friend gave me a phone number, I tried calling, texting, WhatsApping… but months later and I still didn’t even have a sample.
Frustrated, I grabbed my backpack on the next bank holiday (one of the 28 per year!) and set out for Usiacurí. After a few bumps and wrong turns, I managed to find myself on a brightly coloured bus, with what looked like disco lights on top, that would take me to the town.
From the moment I arrived to Edilsa’s house, the artisan who’s contact I had been given, I couldn’t stop grinning. Chickens, ducks, dogs, turtles, children chirped around us as I was shown where the palm leaves are grown, how they are cut and dyed, how they are woven tightly around metal frames, and of course the story of how it all began.
As the sun began to set I was picked up by a motorbike and taken to try and find a place to stay. There’s no hotel in the town but I was told to ask for ‘Chique’ who’s daughter was away and might have a spare room for the night. Fortunately, I was in luck!
As I sat on Chique’s front porch that evening, I had to pinch myself at how kind, generous, and incredibly talented these people were. I simply couldn’t understand how I had never seen or heard of their work, even in Colombia.
I began to send Edilsa’s placemats back to England, spending every spare moment discovering and falling ever more in love with the infinite canvas of talent, culture and creativity that exists across Colombia. Six months later, I had had enough conversations and sleepless nights to be sure that this was what I wanted to do. I said goodbye to the Mayor’s Office and The Colombia Collective was born!
3. You’ve lived in Bogota, where do you most like to spend time? (Any favourite cafes, bars, restaurants?)
Bogota is a gastronomic goldmine, all types of affordable and delicious food almost everywhere.
Breakfast at Árbol de Pan (or Paloquemao market for some sancocho).
Brunch at Abasto.
Lunch at Prudencia.
Afternoon tea at Templo de Te (ironically I don’t drink coffee… But I’m told Colo Coffee is the best).
Dinner at Siete Cabras.
Cocktails at La Huerta.
Salsa en vivo at San Salome (or Quiebracanta round the corner).
And if you’ve still got energy, head over to Video Club for some house music to watch the sun come up to.
4. Aside from Bogota, where else in Colombia do you most like to spend time?
This is by far the hardest question. Exploring. Anywhere. Everywhere.
I’ve never been very good at staying in one place for very long. I love discovering new places, meeting new people and learning about new cultures.
This is probably one of the reasons I love Colombia so much, one could travel for years and still have so much to discover. It’s almost impossible to claim you’ve ‘done it’ here.
There is however something undeniably magical about the Sierra Nevada… Both high in the treetops looking out across the mountains crashing into the sea, or down on the river banks hidden deep in the jungle. To the indigenous tribes living in there, the Sierra is known as the ‘heart of the world’, and it’s not hard to see why!
5. Tell us a bit about the different artisans you work with across Colombia.
In 2019 we were working with over 800 artisans from 14 different communities, the majority of which are women in living rural areas. Many more to come as we add new collections in 2020!
Craftsmanship is more than just a vocation in Colombia, it is a huge part of the culture, identity and economy of small towns and communities across the country. For example, you arrive to Usiacurí, and through almost every window one can see mothers, grandmothers and daughters weaving away in the cool shade of the day. Within the Wayuu tribe, learning to weave a mochila remains, to this day, a sacred part of the process of becoming a woman.
Working with, learning from, and sharing the stories of these communities across the country is what makes this so special for me. Collaborating together to create sustainably sourced and beautifully crafted collections that reflect the incredible culture and diversity of Colombia, with a touch of British design, to develop sustainable economic growth whilst preserving ancestral craft cultures and techniques.
6. Which Bogota based galleries would you recommend to a visiting friend?
Galería la Cometa, MAMBO, KB and currently the incredible exhibition “El Testigo’ at Claustro San Agustin is unmissable.
7. What book would you recommend to a first time traveller to Colombia?
An obvious choice, but ‘100 years of solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez will always be a favourite. Or if you want something to just dip into ‘Colombia a Comedy of Errors’ is a fab and a very amusing thesaurus to all things Colombia.
8. Where are you happiest?
On the dance floor, or half way up a mountain somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Two rather different extremes – not sure what that says about me but hey ho!
9. Where is next on your travel list?
Santander, Cali, and Barranquilla.
Santander to visit new artisan communities to develop designs for our summer collections.
Cali because it’s getting genuinely embarrassing that I still haven’t been (and will be visiting some potential new artisans there too!)
And Barranquilla for carnival, three days of non stop dancing and total joy across the city. Hard to resist! Followed by a quick visit to the artisans in Usiacuri, once everyone has recovered from the festivities of course…
10. To which place will you always return to?
Alas – London. After spending years trying to get away for it, the city has finally won me over these last few months. It could never be my one and only, but it will always be my something!