Tag Archives: Panama

Mola Mola Mola!

Despite what my pictures may suggest, I am actually taking a class while here in Panama. The class is the International Trade and Marketing Practicum. Yes, I get three credits for laying on the beach, swimming in the Caribbean Sea and eating fish pulled fresh out of the ocean. However, we also spend entire days visiting fashion showrooms, logistics centers and talking to Free Trade Zone experts. The final project was started before we even left New York. We each got to choose our topic and then had to do some secondary research before arriving in Panama. Because I am not an ITM major, I focused more on the textiles of the traditional Panamanian culture: the mola. Luckily for me, FIT’s library has some of the best references for textiles in the world.

Molas originated in the Guna Yala region of Panama which is the archipelago of San Blas on the northeastern coast of the country. Before the invasion of the Spanish colonists, the Guna natives (also called the Kuna or Cuna) did not wear clothes and instead painted incredibly intricate and colorful figures on their bodies. Because of the similarities of reports from Lionel Wafer in 1609 it is believed that the molas were simply adaptations of the way the natives used to adorn themselves before the Spanish colonists were shocked by the nudity and required them to cover up.

Molas are made and sold by a huge number of natives who travel to Panama City to sell the wares. Girls usually learn how to sew molas at the age of six or seven. Amazingly, the tradition of the mola has survived centuries and almost all Guna women still dress in the historic way. This means that a panel is sewn as a rectangle and then sewn onto fabric that makes the chest and sleeves of a shirt.

The mola on the left is from a few decades ago, and the mola on the right is the way a modern mola would look with more modern fabric used for the shirting

Molas are made by layering several pieces of fabric of different colors. Then, the artist will decide upon her design and carefully cut away each layer revealing the color of the layers beneath it. Then each edge is painstakingly folded under and held in place with tiny stitches.

Every mola is handmade and no two molas ever look the same. Molas can be purely geometric or figural. The imagery used in molas is not very significant to the culture. Guna women simply reflect the world they see around them in their art. Because of this fish, birds and humans are popular motifs in molas.

My favorite example of Guna women putting what they see in the world around them into their molas

Molas are an integral and distinct part of the Guna native culture and luckily, shows no sign of dying out.


All Work and No Play Makes Emily a Dull Girl

This trip to Panamá is an International Trade and Marketing class where each student is responsible for researching and presenting a report on a topic of his or her own choice. It requires quite a bit of preemptive secondary research to be done before landing in Panamá, as well as a lot of on site research. However, that doesnot mean that this trip is all business.

We have visited many companies and organizations – some that are extremely serious and focused on the business of the Panamá canal in the Free Trade Zone, as well as the United States Embassy in Panamá. (To be honest much of these excursions went over my head as I do not posses the ITM background that would have made them really stand out for me.) However, it is important to also experience the culture of the country. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves:

The Panamá Canal turns 100 this year!

The Panamá Canal turns 100 this year!

It’s not my fault it’s snowing in New York and I get to lay on the beach

Traditional Panamanian dancing

So it Begins

Let’s go places

Today is the beginning of an epic trip around the world. Well, really around Europe and also Central America. My journey starts today flying into Panamá City to take part in the International Trade and Marketing Practicum. The class is technically part of the ITM major, but can be taken by anyone. Each year the class goes to a different important trade city, including Vietnam, Shanghai, and Brazil.

After Panamá I will be back in New York for just three days before catching another flight to Italy for a semester abroad. Hopefully I will be able to visit several cities in Italy as well as around Europe during the semester, why not seize the chance while I’m already across the Atlantic, right? Finally, I will be ending my looong adventure by walking el Camino de Santiago de Compostela. That is one of the medieval pilgrimages across the north of Spain. My last stop will be Barcelona before coming back to New York. I am so excited!

It is totally fair to be asking why am I doing all of this. Well, it was actually a sort of mistake. I always planned on studying abroad, and while in Fashion Design I assumed I would be doing a year in Milan for my Bachelor’s. However, when I switched majors I was told that Fabric Styling does not have any study abroad programs. I was devastated but decided that it was more important to be happy for two years than one year abroad. This is the reason I am now about to board a flight to Panamá. Thinking I would be filling my need to travel with winter and summer programs I decided on a textile research project for this class and paid the deposit. A week after paying my non-refundable deposit my department notified my entire major that this was the first time a study abroad program would be offered and that this was really the only semester we could do it. Now I had my chance and I didn’t want to miss out! So, after discussing it with my parents we decided I might as well go for it and pay them back this summer.

Finally after months of forms, stressful meetings, worrying and daydreaming the day to start my best (*fingers crossed*) semester ever! Stay tuned.


Hola Panamá