Totomoxtle is a project initiated in 2016 by the London-based Mexican designer Fernando Laposse in partnership with CIMMYT, the world’s largest corn seed bank, and a group of families of Tonahuixtla, a small village in the state of Puebla in Mexico. They have been working together to develop Totomoxtle, a veneer material that promotes ancestral species of corn and their role in the preservation of biodiversity and indigenous communities, making them more resilient to climate challenges. The project is a beautiful example of circularity and the positive influence that design can have on ecosystems.

The process to create Totomoxtle starts with corn husks waste generated from preparation of the corn as a food. They are ironed and backed on textile with glue. It then can be laser cut to be used as a marquetry for design objects, furniture as well as a decorative wall covering. Thanks to the wide variety of native Mexican corn, which has naturally colorful husks, Totomoxtle shades range from purple to pink and beige.

Corn husks. Photo credit Fernando Laposse.

Corn was first domesticated by native people in Mexico about 10,000 years ago and counts several colorful species. Industrial agriculture has tried to eliminate this variety (color, size, sugar content) in order to make the production profitable, introducing hybrid standard species requiring the intensive use of pesticides.

In 1994, the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) put Mexican farmers in competition with farming giants and forced them to adopt modern farming techniques. Traditionally planted among beans and pumpkin, corn farming was able to preserve soil fertility. The large-scale monoculture of corn and the heavy use of herbicides have destroyed an ecosystem that took centuries to build.

Farmer in Tonahuixtla. Photo credit Fernando Laposse.

The number of native varieties of Mexican corn has been significantly decreasing in only a few decades. Soils have become poorer and less fertile. Farming became harder and left people unemployed forcing them to migrate.

Fernando Laposse and the families of Tonahuixtla have been working to reintroduce native species of maize enhancing traditional agriculture. The local community, engaged in the project, is strengthened by the project: the husks are transformed into the veneering material by a group of local women providing a new source of income.

Corn husks table. Photo credit Gallery Friedman Benda and Fernando Laposse.
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Totomoxtle by Fernando Laposse