MEXICO CITY – With careful handcrafting, a Mexican firm is producing national flags amid the growing threat of Chinese competition, with companies in the Asian giant seeking a portion of the market in the run-up to Mexico’s Independence Day celebrations on Sept. 16.
The La Principal company was founded in 1907 and, besides Mexican flags, it turns out and sells other items that are bought mainly in the months of February, for Flag Day, and in September, when the country celebrates its independence, the struggle for which began in 1810 and came to fruition in 1821.
By a rather ironic coincidence the firm – which makes all its flags by hand – is located in Mexico City’s Chinese district, in the capital’s historic downtown, where it has both its offices and its workshop.
In an interview with EFE, Eduardo Castañeda, the director of La Principal and the great-grandson of its founder, said that the Chinese producers “have a cap” on the size of the flags they can produce – namely, 0.9 by 1.58 meters (2.95 x 5.18 feet) – meaning that “they can’t manufacture huge flags.”
Castañeda said that the Chinese “prefer to manufacture and sell 10,000 little flags (of the kind offered by street vendors all over the Mexican capital) rather than manufacture a huge one that can weigh up to 350 kilograms (770 pounds).”
Counteracting that competition is the Mexican firm’s handcrafting, an advantage that it continues to capitalize on despite technological advances, with five people who work in the workshop itself and 25 artisans who do piecework from home.
“We haven’t wanted to industrialize the process,” the director said.
Castañeda said that it’s not the same to manufacture a “printed” flag like the ones offered by thousands of vendors in Mexico “with economical materials” as to create an “official one for a ceremonial event” requiring a certain kind of cloth and special procedures, along with the fact that the central symbol should be “painted and bordered by hand.”
But despite the competition and other factors, Castañeda said that’s simply “business,” although the market is in something of the doldrums due to a feeling of lack of identity among Mexicans.
“As Mexicans, if I don’t like the president, or the political party or whatever, we stop ... buying the flag. Because Mexicans ‘fight’ with that patriotic symbol,” he said.
Castañeda also said that over the years Mexicans have lost their nationalist feelings and have relegated the national flag to a secondary place in their daily lives.
“Before, families kept a special place (at home) for their flag, of whatever size. But now no homes, or very few homes, have a flag in the living room or dining room as part of the decoration,” he said, noting that the company has had to get creative to keep the revenue coming in.
Along those lines, one area in which La Principal stands out is in the manufacture of presidential flags, the symbol that Mexican presidents display at official events such as while presenting a presidential report or at Independence Day events.
He recalled that before the 1982-1988 presidency of Miguel de la Madrid the firm was the only one to be manufacturing the national flag, but later the secretaries of state, trying to “remain on good terms” with the president, began “commissioning” several other workshops to make flags.
He said that, at La Principal, the “entire border is made by hand and nothing by machine, it’s the same technique by which the matadors’ suits of lights ... or the mariachis’ suits are made.”
Regarding the firm, Castañeda said that his great-grandfather, Marciano Rodriguez Mederos, started it to make uniforms for the Mexican military during the revolutionary epoch and sold both to the Mexican army and to the opposition.
But over the years, he changed the focus of the firm as the Mexican army began opening its own uniform and flag factories and created standards for patriotic symbols, all of which led to a drop in business.
Nevertheless, the firm has continued to thrive and its customers now include the Mexico City Legislative Assembly and the congress of the northern state of Durango.