When delving into the world of textiles in Latin America, it can be hard to know where to start: alpaca rugs made by indigenous tribes in the Andes, backstrap-woven huipiles from the highlands of Guatemala, bright embroidered molas from the islands of Guna Yala...

With her brand Jaguarundi, business-woman turned fashion designer Helmi Mannil doesn't make you choose just one textile tradition. Each Jaguarundi design incorporates traditions of various Latin American artisan communities, uniting Latin American cultural arts.

Read on to hear more about the brand as told by Helmi.


When did you decide to start Jaguarundi?

I worked for many years in the advertising and marketing industry, but by fate ended up in the family business until my father passed away. That was a turning point in my life that made me re-think what I really wanted to do. To say the least, I had eccentric and adventurous parents who taught me not to be afraid of being different.

For years I had collected Latin American handicrafts that I acquired in my travels. Jaguarundi is the result of turning two of my favorite hobbies - travel and art - into my job.

Jaguarundi Thread Caravan by Forrest Aguar 2.jpg

How long have you been running Jaguarundi?

Three years ago my children Federika and Martin Felipe Tovar and I co-founded Jaguarundi. At the beginning, we were more like curators, showcasing our favorite Latin American designs. Serendipitously I crossed roads with an old acquaintance, Mercedes Machado Zingg, who became our creative director and took us more in the direction of designing than curating. That was our turning point in becoming an accessories brand focused on designing products that incorporate centuries of traditions as well as contemporary elements.

Why "Latin America United"?

While I was doing market research I noticed that all of the weavings in Latin America are artistically connected, even though they are slightly different in each region. I realized that in the past our ancestors had been connected by thread and that we all belonged to one community which is: Latin America.

We started designing products that incorporated elements from different regions and indigenous communities and they all blended so well together when we combined them. So it became the theme of our brand: LATIN AMERICA UNITED.

How many countries do you work in?

We have worked in México, Guatemala, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador. Our idea is to work with artistic representations of all Latin American countries. It is a vast continent and each country has diversity among regions so inspiration from all of them seem to be endless.

Which indigenous groups do you work with?

We work most closely with the Wayúu community (in Colombia and Venezuela). As I mentioned before, we travel to many different countries inquiring directly about the regional communities' products that we later transform.

Which piece of yours has the greatest number of artisan groups contributing to it?

I think our KUCHU backpack is the most unifying. It features weavings and elements produced by artisans in Peru, Colombia and México. We also have our MIXI line that represents a collage of weavings.

How do you find inspiration for your designs?

As Diane Vreeland quoted: “The eye has to travel”. Whenever our team travels we find inspiration - in food, nature, local markets and traditional clothing. When we see an ordinary object, we have a trained eye to see what it can become.

What is your favorite place to visit in Latin America? Why?

I cannot specify a favorite country as I enjoy the uniqueness of every town, region and country. But I am a foodie, so I especially love each visit to Peru and Mexico. By culinary standards those are my two favorites.

How do you envision the company growing in the future?

I envision Jaguarundi growing in the global market. We are aiming to have a creative appeal that is fresh and new. We hope to honor centuries of our ancestors traditional skills by projecting them into the future.

You can find more of the Jaguarundi designs on their website

[Photos by Forrest Aguar.]