Deming Headlight Highlights Border Partners’ Work in Palomas–Part 1

The Deming Headlight, newspaper of Deming, New Mexico, focused on our work in a series of three articles by Marjorie Lilly. We encourage you to visit the articles on the Headlight’s webpage. For your convenience, we post them here with gratitude to the Headlight.

Business could be booming in Palomas by Marjorie Lilly

The seven women in Palomas who originally worked for Palomas Oilcloth Designs in 2008 are still working there. It was one of the first projects nurtured into existence by the non-profit organization Border Partners, directed by Polly and Peter Edmunds of Deming.

Palomas Oilcloth Designs group

The women make bags, aprons, and tablecloths out of oilcloth printed with traditional Mexican designs of bright colored flowers and fruits.

They sell them at the Pink Store in Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico, at Mountain View Market in Las Cruces, La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, as well as in Tucson, AZ, Duluth, MN and even Australia. They have a website […] where orders can be made, and also on the Etsy website.

The women have paid off their loan to Border Partners and have their own bank account. But they still work with Polly Edmunds to some extent. “She sometimes receives orders and gives them to us,” says Ludy Loya. “She brings our things to stores.”

Palomas Oilcloth Designs started up in 2008, when the violence began soaring in Palomas, a Mexican border town located 35 miles south of Deming. Six years later, the business is still intact, long after the violence has subsided.

The goal of the Edmunds’ non-profit organization has been to promote “education, health and recreation, sustainable technologies and economic growth,” as stated on their website.

The Edmunds are from Minnesota and found the motivation to start their project when they went to Cuernavaca, Mexico after their last child had finished high school.

They visited a town in the mountains “where people lived in houses made from palm fronds and corn stalks,” says Polly. “They had no real source of clean water. We were forever changed from that day forward.”

When Palomas Oilcloth Designs was just starting out, says Juliana Lazca, “Polly brought an apron so we could get an idea of the design. At the beginning we made only aprons.”

They designed the aprons, and then designed almost all the bags.

“If we designed more bags now, it would take too much time,” said Loya, the coordinator for the group. [Border Partners’ note: They will accept custom orders]

“Thank God Polly came to Palomas at that time,” Lazca said.

Polly helped them learn necessary skills like accounting, marketing and purchasing supplies. Ivonne Romero at the Pink Store orders the rolls of oilcloth they want from Mexico City. “We don’t spend a lot of time with Polly any more,” Loya said.

The designs are sunny and appealing.

There are cherries, apples, watermelons, pineapples, chrysanthemums, and sunflowers with a “retro” look, as the same designs have been used on tablecloths in Mexico for decades. They come in red, dark green, yellow, aqua, hot pink, lime green and more.

They used to work together at the building used by Border Partners. “It was kind of a social club,” said Loya.

But the space is now being used as a soup kitchen for the government program called Crusade Against Hunger, so the women just store their oilcloth there and go there to cut off what they need.

They all work mostly separately now, and on their own schedules. One works in her living room, another in the kitchen.

“The only rule is that everybody works the same and for the same hours,” said Loya. “Everybody gets the same amount of money.” They get an average of $50 a week, more in the summer months than in winter, from ten hours of labor. This is what many people in town earn in a week. They earn about $5 an hour, which is a competitive rate in a town like Palomas.

Palomas has been in an unemployment crisis since about 2006, when the U.S. tightened the borders. This shut down a lot of businesses that served illegal border crossers. A factory shut down when the economic recession hit, and the drug violence has scared away medical tourists.

So most of the women are supplementing their family income in a town where there’s a lot of hunger and unemployment. By some estimates half the population is out of work.

Juliana didn’t have a job before, but now she and her husband, who drives a taxi, are building a new house for themselves with the help of her earnings.

Socorro Ortega made “much less” before. She made pastries and sold them from house to house, often not earning enough for her and her daughter to eat. But now she can take vacations and fix her house.

Working only 10 hours a week leaves time for other jobs.

Loya has a beauty salon. Socorrito works as a health promotora for Border Partners.

Berenice works at her mother’s ice cream business.

The biggest order they’ve ever had, says Loya, is when they were commissioned to make 1,500 bags for an international church conference. They worked on the bags from October last year to March this year. They do special orders sometimes too. Requests can be e-mailed to

Loya puts out a request for donations of sewing machines for the group. “Sewing oilcloth is very hard,” she says. “Socorrito was telling me she’s having things [on her sewing machine] break very easily. And we don’t have anybody here who can fix them.”

She describes the kind of sewing machine they need — “the older the better. Old machines are very strong.”

When asked why she continues working for Palomas Oilcloth Designs, Ortega says, “For the money, and because I like it.” In regard to whether they will work there forever, “We hope to God we will,” she says.

Berenice Garrido adds, smiling, “Hasta que el cuerpo aguante” (As long as my body lasts), and they laugh.

A little help goes a long way in Palomas, and the women in the group are still smiling with gratitude.

For donations to Border Partners e-mail

Desert Exposure spotlights Border Partners


Desert Exposure masthead

Desert Exposure masthead

Desert Exposure, a free monthly magazine in tabloid format, is featuring this month Border Partners’ work and activities in Palomas. It is running an extensive article by Marjorie Lilly, entitled “Putting Heads Together,” as one of its major news stories for June 2012.

Marjory Lilly traveled to Palomas twice as she researched her material for the article. She visited gardens, a gardener’s meeting, our woodworking shop and a Palomas Oilcloth Designs business meeting. She also individually interviewed Polly and Peter Edmunds, Border Partners founders, and Joel Carreon, a member of the Board of Directors.

The article demonstrates the needs in Palomas and showcase some of the ways Border Partners is responding. A few highlights from the article:

  • Juana Lozoya, our Palomas garden promoter, shared her belief that every garden member family has lacked food at some point in the past year or so.
  • The gardening group membership has grown from just 15 last winter to 40 members currently.
  • Border Partners is introducing “papercrete” — bricks made from paper, sand, cement and water–in Palomas constructions due to its phenomenal insulating qualities.
  • The women of Palomas Oilcloth Designs earned an average of $75 a week in 2011, an increase from just $45 in 2010. “This group is really in business now,” states the article.
  • Border Partners is the only international organization currently in Palomas that is doing “development projects.” Other groups primarily distribute supplies and provide services.
Marjorie Lily

Marjorie Lilly (photo credit: Desert Exposure)

Desert Exposure has served readers throughout Southwest New Mexico since 1996. It’s been called “the New Yorker of New Mexico” for its unique mix of investigative reporting, colorful columnists, in-depth feature journalism, interviews, offbeat stories, arts and events information and humor.

Desert Exposure reported in May 2009 on our worker-owned women’s cooperative business when it was but a fledgling group [c.f. “Viva La Cooperativa”]. Palomas Oilcloth Designs, now standing almost completely independent of Border Partners, receives important attention in the article. [See also “Some News from Palomas Oilcloth Designs” for recent updates.]

We genuinely appreciate Marjorie Lilly’s time and attention to detail as she reported on the community development projects Border Partners has initiated and/or supported. Desert Exposure’s distribution will broaden regional awareness of both the needs in Palomas and a number of the ways we at Border Partners are “putting heads together” on the U.S.-Mexico border to address those needs.


Some news from Palomas Oilcloth Designs

The women who formed the sewing cooperative, Palomas Oilcloth Designs, are surging forward, changing and adapting. We’d like to share some of their recent news.  Most importantly, just three years after they began learning to sew oilcloth aprons under the wing of Border Partners, they now manage all their own design, production, purchasing, and accounting.  They do not even have a loan from Border Partners anymore!  Sales are good and the only assistance they receive from volunteers in the  US is with marketing and their online store.

Palomas Oilcloth Designs group

New postcard for Palomas Oilcloth Designs reflects a membership change in the group.

Membership change
A founding member of the cooperative, Juana Lozoya, accepted a position with Border Partners as the garden promoter in Palomas. In order to fulfill her new responsibilities, Juana withdrew from the cooperative. Bere Chavez, who is the daughter of Martha Chavez, a member of the group, moved into the cooperative not only as the newest member but also the first member of the business who was not present from the start. She has assumed her new duties perfectly, learning the skills and functioning very well with a group that’s been working well together from the start. Welcome, Bere!

New postcard
A new member…and increased sales…have required a renewal and replenishing of the Palomas Oilcloth Designs postcards. The postcards and tags add value to the oilcloth products, making a nice touch when they’re given as a gift. Graphic designer Patti Kremer volunteers her time and skills to assist the coop. By the way, new member Bere (who you learned about above) is on the left in the front row of the latest postcard edition. You may recognize her from our website header because she is pictured there with her baby daughter.

Cinco de Mayo invitation
Businessman Jeff Hawley invited Palomas Oilcloth Designs to participate in a special Cinco de Mayo event at his store, The Raven’s Nest Boutique, in Silver City, NM.  A representative was available to take special orders for oilcloth tablecloths, totes, floor mats, placemats, handbags and to share about the business. The Raven’s Nest served refreshments.

Hawley told the press:
“As a retailer I am proud to carry their goods and to know that I am helping people support their families, like all of the gallery/shop owners here — not a big conglomerate, but those making a living doing what they love. That is what small business is about!”

Organization assistance!
POD aprons scored a mention on a professional organizer’s blog. Jeri’s Organizing and Decluttering News featured the pocketed aprons on her April post because “an apron can be a helpful organizing aid, making sure you have essential tools close at hand.” Jeri, who has seven years of experience as a professional organizer, told us:

“I love being able to use my blog to help organizations such as yours – and serve my readers at the same time.”

New Etsy offerings
The women’s online store now features two new items in response to customer requests. The colorful and durable oilcloth tablecloths have arrived just in time for summer picnics and barbecues. They’re great for the patio, the deck and the park. And, just in time for Father’s Day, the women have made some really fun aprons for MEN (or adventurous women!) in animal print designs. Do check them out on Etsy!

Facebook page discount

Show your support for the women workers of Palomas Oilcloth Designs by “Liking” their Facebook page. In appreciation, they’ll give you a 15% discount on items you order through their Esty application on that page. It’s a great deal on wonderful products you can feel good about purchasing.

Fair trade sale featuring Palomas Oilcloth Designs products highlights an Alternative Black Friday

customers admire Palomas Oilcloth Designs products

Customers like Palomas Oilcloth Designs gifts at the Alternative Black Friday sale in El Paso.

Border Partners presented the Fair Trade products of Palomas Oilcloth Designs at an Alternative Black Friday Sale in El Paso on the day after Thanksgiving. Our table participated with many local and international nonprofit organizations that sold artwork, jewelry, household goods, clothing and fashion accessories, and photography crafted by–and directly benefiting–economically challenged peoples.

“When you give a Fair Trade gift, your gift gives twice,” Border Partners founder Polly Edmunds reminded shoppers. The customers, appreciating the quality of the products, didn’t need urging to purchase aprons, cosmetic bags, place mats, tablecloths and bags for gifts.

Why an Alternative Black Friday Sale? Volunteer Billie Greenwood explained that the effort offered shoppers, who traditionally purchase holiday gifts on the day after Thanksgiving, with a more personal and constructive alternative to the commercialization that can creep into holiday gift-giving.

“By supporting local enterprise in developing countries and challenged communities right here on the U.S.-Mexico border we can make a positive difference. By encouraging employment we’re supporting dignity and human rights. People are able to provide for themselves and their families.”

The Palomas Oilcloth Design products are crafted by a group of seven women who design and sew on Mexican oilcloth to earn a stable income. Because Palomas is plagued with an astronomical rate of unemployment, the women’s initiative has made a significant difference for their families. They hope to attain full ownership of the business in the future; currently, the coop relies on Border Partners for support.

Palomas Oilcloth Design products are available for sale online at the group’s Etsy site: MXwomen’sHope.