Vera Claire | Apiece Apart Woman

Vera Claire | Apiece Apart Woman
 
As summer begins and friends (finally!) reconnect after a long separation, we’re thinking about women who immerse themselves in their local communities’ growth and needs. Vera Claire, a social entrepreneur who founded the non-profit Cosa Buena has been fostering more equitable relationships between visitors and artisans in Oaxaca, Mexico since Cosa Buena began five years ago.
 
Thanks to her international upbringing, Vera has forever maintained a cross-cultural worldview. She feels passionately that cultural exchanges must be more mutually beneficial and environmentally conscious to protect communities who depend on tourism. After moving to Oaxaca, Vera felt unsettled by the ways in which tourists did not sufficiently value the indigenous Zapotec or Mixtec’s knowledge or complex traditions. She and her husband Sam began Cosa Buena as a way to empower indigenous artisans and educate visitors about the history of these communities.
 
Everything Cosa Buena produces is made by local artisans using locally sourced materials, and they’ve fostered partnerships with the same families and cooperatives over the years. Currently, they’re creating large-scale art installations for Design Week Mexico, the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, and the new Amazon campus in Austin. We met up with Vera at home in Oaxaca and discussed the ethos of Cosa Buena, good advice she’s received, upcoming projects, and an album she’ll never get sick of playing.
 
Photos by Ilan Sanchez
 
Vera Claire | Apiece Apart Woman
 
Can you share a bit about your upbringing and childhood?
I grew up traveling because my family was spread across different countries. I’m very fortunate to have had that experience from a young age— it made me curious about the world, and opened my heart and mind to the unfamiliar. I grew up in the Sonoran desert in Tucson, Arizona, and  spent summers in the South of France, Italy, Amsterdam, and Budapest.  I didn’t recognize it as a child, but these were formative experiences that strongly influenced who I am today. 
 
Vera Claire | Apiece Apart Woman

Tell us about Cosa Buena, how it came to be and its guiding ethos.  
I was living and working in Valparaiso, Chile and then in Buenos Aires, Argentina. During that time I traveled around the continent, and became familiar with traditional Indigenous arts. I was amazed by the craftsmanship, and also the cosmovision and preservation of ancient knowledge. Eventually that brought me to Oaxaca. 

My first trip to Oaxaca had a profound effect on me and laid the groundwork for my growing involvement with traditional artisans in the region. It wasn't my plan, but I ended up focusing on my Master’s thesis in Oaxaca. I developed a language and literacy curriculum that drew on the specific language needs of a female Zapotec weaving cooperative. This helped me develop a deeper understanding of the obstacles the women faced in securing financial independence while preserving their cultural heritage. As a woman, I felt a responsibility to support women in their efforts for gender equality and advancement. I was inspired by these women and admired them for their courageous and forward-looking approach to the challenges they faced as women, artisans and entrepreneurs. 

Cosa Buena developed rather organically, and it continues to evolve. Our organization is multifaceted, spanning from regenerative travel programs to social design projects. Ultimately, our goal is to strengthen grassroots community leadership through design, education, awareness and advocacy. 
 
Vera Claire | Apiece Apart Woman

What’s a project you’re currently excited about?
I have a piece that is going to be part of an exhibition in the Museo de Antropología (Anthropology Museum) in Mexico City. The exhibition was postponed due to the pandemic, but now almost a year later it looks like we may be able to have the inauguration in October. I just opened my first solo exhibition for my piece País de Maíz in the Museo de la Filatelia (MUFI) in Oaxaca City. 

 I am also very excited by our new program Ser Mujer — SER MUJER was created as an urgent response to address violence against women in México, specifically in our local community in Oaxaca. Mexico continues to be in the grips of a femicide crisis with 11 women murdered every day. SER MUJER is a combination of advocacy and the development of strategies, services and counseling to respond to the needs of women in our community. What is unique about our approach is the utilization of la cocina (the kitchen) as the medium through which we address violence and provide resources for escaping it. Our first session was incredibly successful, and will be launching the next session mid June. 
 
Vera Claire | Apiece Apart Woman

Can you share a piece of good advice you’ve been given that, in turn, you’ve passed along to someone else?
When one door closes another one opens, it is very cliched, but it holds true in life. If it wasn’t meant to be, something else, often better, is waiting for you. 


Is there a song or album you could play forever on repeat?
I grew up on The Beatles.  I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of them, I love The White Album and Rubber Soul. My Dad used to play ``Here Comes The Sun” on acoustic guitar to wake me up in the morning. He played it at my wedding when I walked down the aisle, so that song will always be very special to me.
 
Vera Claire | Apiece Apart Woman

What’s something about yourself that you’ve come to value over time?
My creativity and my resilience. 


What’re some things that make you feel the most like yourself? 
Being in nature, barefoot with my feet on the ground. Spending time around my closest friends and family. Driving long dusty roads alone in México. I have to do this often for work, and it gives me time to just sit with myself and reflect. 
 
Vera Claire | Apiece Apart Woman

How have your ideas about success and failure evolved? 
I used to be very wrapped up in academia, and academic success was very important to me. Over the years I have made a departure from formal academics and that line of thinking into a more experiential world. Learning through doing, and accepting failure as part of personal evolution.


What’s a beauty habit that you have given up over the years? What’s a beauty habit you’ve acquired instead?
I used to be really terrible about washing my face and taking care of my skin. I never really did anything. Now I always wear SPF, and I love to use oils on my face. I cleanse my face with jojoba oil, and moisturize with marula oil. 
 
Vera Claire | Apiece Apart Woman

Is there a character in a novel or movie that you most connect with or see yourself in?
Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild.” I had a similar experience when I was 25 years-old. I backpacked solo through the wilds of Patagonia in Southern Chile. It was a much shorter journey than hers, but similarly it was a journey of self-discovery. 


Are there any rituals, routines, or habits that make you feel centered and get out of your head?
Hiking, riding a bike, lighting copal and sitting under the stars. I really love animals, and feel centered and at peace when I am around them.
 
Vera Claire | Apiece Apart Woman