Our Colombia Collective founder, Kate Wrigley shares how it all began in her own words....
Colombia is somewhere that has always had this magical aura for me. Growing up, a friend of my father’s would share his adventures from his regular business trips to the country. For some reason, this always stayed with me. After school, I managed to find a job teaching English in Argentina and fell totally in love with the country, the culture, the music, the language, and most of all the people!
Still Colombia had this lure about it, I always knew that if I ever got there, it would not be as a tourist.
A few years and an architecture degree later, I was working as an urban design consultant in London when I stumbled across a book called ‘Happy City’ by Charles Montgomery.
The first page of the very first chapter: ‘The Mayor of Happy’ was what can only be described as a love letter to the Mayor of Bogotá, Enrique Peñalosa.
It showcased building bike lanes before highways, adding parks and plazas before high-rises - essentially making the city happier, not simply higher. I was in love. I filled every inbox with my dreams of moving to Colombia, but, as expected, lots of smiles and even more dead ends. Months later, once I had surrendered to my fate as a London 9-5er, an email popped up in my inbox: ‘Hello Kate, I understand you would like to spend some time working with us….Enrique Peñalosa.’
Before I had any idea what had happened, I was on a plane to Colombia to start my new adventure at the Mayors Office. After a few years of working with the Mayor in Bogotá, a family friend in London reached out to me having heard I was out in Colombia. She wanted some help finding placemats and baskets that she was looking to stock in her interior design shop.
After weeks of asking around, I finally discovered that the pieces were made in a small town just outside Barranquilla. A friend gave me a phone number and I tried calling, texting, WhatsApping, but months later and I still didn’t even have a sample. Frustrated, I grabbed my backpack on the next bank holiday (one of the 28 per year!) and set out for Usiacurí. After a few bumps and slightly scary wrong turns, I managed to find myself on a brightly coloured bus covered in disco lights, that promised to take me to the town.
Soon I was picked up by a friendly face on a motorbike who took me to try and find a place to spend the night. There’s no hotel in the town but I was told to ask for ‘Chique’ whose daughter was away and might have a spare room for the night. Fortunately, I was in luck. As I sat on Chique’s front porch that evening, I had to pinch myself at how kind, generous, and incredibly talented these people were. I simply couldn’t understand how I had never seen or heard of their work, even in Colombia.
I began to send the placemats back to England, spending every spare moment discovering and falling even more in love with the infinite canvas of talent, culture and creativity that exists across Colombia.
Six months later, I had had enough conversations and sleepless nights to be sure that these were the people I wanted to work with, and this was what I wanted to give more and more time to. I said goodbye to the Mayor’s Office and The Colombia Collective was born!