After driving around Argentina, getting various directions from information agencies and tips from locals, we finally found Ruta del Tejido. Ruta del Tejido is a cooperative of artisans founded in 2004 in a small town in Northern Argentina. They came to be out of necessity. In 2001 there was an economic crisis in Argentina, and they discovered that they could be more effective if they all worked together. They first traded their works for goods that they needed such as food and other necessities. As the economic condition improved, they began to sell their goods and continue to work together. The artisans make everything together as a group, and each know how to make every design offered in the shop. The designs and processes are traditional but adapt to fit the times. We are excited to help support some of the 40 artisans that are a part of the organization. 80% of proceeds of the cooperative go toward the artisans and 20% go to the cooperative for administrative costs. We are excited to be partnering with Ruta del Tejido and can’t wait to show you the talents of the artisans here!
Rogelio is a 54 year-old father of 5 (ages 4-14) with a perpetual smile on his face. He has been an artisan for 15 years and learned his traditional technique from his mother. Before his work as an artisan, he worked in the sugar cane fields down the hill in Tucuman. When asked which profession he likes better, he quickly answered working as an artisan. His work is important to him because it provides for his family. Rogelio is the uncle of Jacinta, who works right next door. He lives the simple life with his family on land outside the hustle and bustle of nearby cities, surrounded by a beautiful mountain range with dogs and chickens running around. Each time we came to visit and talk with Rogelio, he was hard at work and we are excited to show you the outcome of his efforts!
Jacinta is a 38 year-old soft-spoken Argentinean woman who has been working as an artisan for 10 years now. She uses traditional and ancestral techniques in her work and learned from her grandmother. She says that she loves being an artisan because she feels like she is getting better and better everyday and that provides her with fulfillment. More importantly, it means a better life for her two children. It puts food on the table and enables them to get a good education. Another reason she loves her work is that it allows her to work for herself, and live an independent life without being limited by cultural norms. Throughout our time with Jacinta, we enjoyed her calm and content energy as well as her easy-going attitude. We can’t wait to share her talents with you!
Alejandrina and the Chincheros Artisan Community
It has been an absolute treat working with Alejandrina, her daughter, and the artisan community they have introduced us to in their quaint hometown of Chincheros. This small Andean village sits high in the Sacred Valley of Peru and has a very active community of women weavers among the mud brick houses and serene mountain scenery.
We first met Alejandrina at “La Feria,” which is an annual event hosted in Chincheros. It is flooded with artisans, atv riding, cows, street food, and loud music. Out of the organized chaos, we were drawn in by Alejandrina's beautiful work and radiant smile. After some conversation, she told us to meet her at a plaza the next day where she would have more of her work on display. Chincheros being the small village it is, the plaza happened to be a quick ten-minute stroll from our hostel.
Upon arrival, Alejandrina was nowhere to be seen. Instead, we found her daughter, Mary Luz, who was looking over her work for the morning. She is one of four children in the family, and shares the weaving background of her mother that has been passed down for generations. Our interactions with local women weavers did not stop here. When Alejandrina finally arrived, she began introducing us to her friends and a handful of this welcoming community. By the end of our visit, we were surrounded by friends and business partners. The warm introduction to the rest of this community came naturally and we couldn’t have envisioned our interactions going any smoother. We left the plaza waving good bye to seven or more women weavers with huge smiles, saying “hasta luego.” A majority of these women’s works will be featured in our Exchange.
We are so grateful to support the small community of women weavers in Chincheros, as they are much less exposed to tourism than many other communities in the region. They took us to their homes and shared their history with us as if we were a long-lost part of the family. We couldn’t be more excited to share their talents with you!
We then went around to the back of the house, where Narcisso’s brother was also working away on another loom making scarves. His brother was friendly, and constantly working throughout our entire visit. As we continued to the back, Narcisso’s sister was hand-making masks, for an annual festival hosted in the Otavalo plaza in June. It is a significant party for the Otavalans where everyone wears the masks and dances. As we met members of the family one by one, it became obvious that these hardworking artisans were genuinely some of the warmest, happiest people we have ever had the pleasure to meet. There was nothing but smiles throughout our entire visit. On the way out, Narcisso’s mother waved to us by the front door and yelled, “Hasta manaña!”, knowing that we were not likely to come back the next day. It was very endearing and a wonderful way to end our home visit.
It was an incredible experience to see a family who possesses so few material possessions, and so much love. We are so grateful to have been invited to their home, and learn about their family, history, culture, and how they make their beautiful infinity scarves. We hope you enjoy their work in the upcoming Exchange!
Janin Meza Armas
We were walking down calle 11, in the Candelaria district of Bogotá, and saw something that made us stop in our tracks. His brilliant work, incredibly friendly vibes, and cute puppy had us intrigued. Janin (ha-neen) was quick to make conversation with us, telling us about his lindo Perú, adventures, and passion for gemstones. When he was younger he saw a map and was bewildered with how large the world was. At that moment he realized that he wanted to see it all and began to take an interest in geography and precious stones.
At the age of 20 he decided to turn his passion into a career. He learned the art of making jewelry from other artisans. He started with bracelets and taught himself more complicated techniques from there. At 23 he decided to use his passion for handmade jewelry to support his desire to travel. He is now 29 and calls his work his “passport to the world.” In many ways, he is much like we are. A Peruvian Journeyman! It was an engaging experience working with Janin, and we wish him the best on his travels. We hope that you enjoy his work!
Segundo Maldonado Chisa
Segundo is a soft-spoken 56 year-old Ecuadorian man with nine children. He lives with his family in Comunidad Area Zuco, outside of Otavalo. Segundo and his family leave a small environmental footprint by using sustainable agriculture practices. Their income goes toward only three things: oil, gas, and matches. This is all they need to maintain their plant and animal production and support themselves.
Segundo has been weaving for 30 years total, 13 with alpaca. It was his own self-interest in his twenties that led him to ask a friend to teach him the craft, and he has developed his skills ever since. The handmade alpaca scarves he makes today mean a lot to him. He told us, "my work is very important to me and means not losing a part of my history.” It was a pleasure getting to know Segundo and we hope you enjoy his work!
Marco was a great representation of the friendliness and hard-working nature of the indigenous Otavalo artisan community, and we hope you enjoy his alpaca blankets!
Alicia Urariyu Pushaina
Alicia was born in La Guajira Province of Colombia, resides in La Ranchería Yruwacho, and has a great smile and laugh. She is 47 years old and has been making bags since she can remember, and it shows. The quality of her bags and stitching is incredible. She told us that it can take her up to a month to finish one bag! She arrives to her spot of choice on la Primera, nestled between the shade of nearby palms, every day. There she hides from the Colombian sun, under a makeshift awning, crocheting and promoting her inventory with a kind “A la orden” to anyone who shows the slightest bit of interest. At the end of the day, usually into the late evening hours, she packs up with the help of her family and heads back to the Ranchería for the night.
Living on the Rancheria has kept the Wayuu culture and sense of community very strong in Alicia’s family. When we began to speak with her, she greeted us with a big smile and warm “Hola”. After conversing for a little in Spanish, we were afraid that we would not be able to communicate well because Alicia’s strongest language is the indigenous language of the Wayuu. After we explained that we wanted to provide her with an opportunity to sell her bags, her nephew and grandson came over to see what was going on. The two boys were eager to help and translated for us, making the interaction possible. When we told her how much we would pay her for each bag, the look on her face was of disbelief and bewilderment. She and the boys asked multiple times to confirm the price, and each time we told them, their smiles got bigger and bigger. Throughout the interaction, they would look at us with glowing faces, and our smiles got bigger as well. This was something special.
They told us about life on the Ranchería. That they raise animals and grow what they can. That they play traditional games and dance the Chicha Maya, which is a traditional Wayuu dance. And the families make Mochila Bags. The women make the bag bodies and the men make the straps. And in this way, it is a family affair and community effort.
Times have become increasingly difficult for the Wayuu people of the Rancherías. It has not rained in La Guajira Peninsula for 3 years and they are suffering from an extreme drought. The drought has killed off some of their livestock and made it extremely difficult to grow food of any kind. Thankfully, there are organizations such as Green Hope Colombia and Fundacion Enlace Activo that dedicate resources to aid the Wayuu. They actively work to help sustainably support the Wayuu people, their culture, and values.
Your purchases allow us to provide Alicia with an additional economic benefit that will help her contribute to her family and buy more materials to continue making Wayuu bags. Your purchases also enable us to pay her a fair wage that is far above the market average. We are grateful to have worked with Alicia and thankful that we can bring her goods to you!
Leonor Solano Epiayu
Leonor is from Riohacha, La Guajira, Colombia and and she has been hand making Wayuu Mochila Bags since she was eight years old. She brings her inventory of bags to the same spot on La Primera (the beachfront street in Riohacha) every day. She arrives in the morning and sets up shop. She sits in her chair, trying to find what little shade is available, with her crocheting materials at her feet. She promotes her bags and crochets all day, replenishing her supply as she sells it. With 42 years of experience, she is extremely skilled in her trade. She told us that she has five children, two of whom have graduated from university while the other three are currently studying. Her beautifully made Mochila Bags provide her with the means to support her family.
The bags take Leonor anywhere from three days to one week to make. She uses a small crochet needle and cotton, nylon, or a mix of the two threads to make them from the bottom up, starting with the base and then stitching the side walls. Her sons make the straps, as it is customary in their culture for the men to make them. She then stitches the two parts together to create a finished Mochila.
While Leonor does not live on a Wayuu Ranchería, she still holds the values instilled there close at heart. You can see them in her work, in the extreme detail that is involved in every stitch of each bag, in the way she speaks so fondly of her native language and customs, and in her kind eyes and soft voice when she describes the importance of community. During our conversation, she told us that “Community is everything. When the community splits, all power is lost.” And it is for this reason that she works so hard to support her family. The smile that came to her face when she spoke of her children and other family was so bright, and when we told her that we wanted to buy her bags for more than she was asking, she couldn’t stop talking about how the additional income would help her to support her children. In her words, she is “the mother and the father of the household”, and it shows in her desire to provide for her family.
Your purchases help Leonor support her family that she cares so much about. Additionally, because we paid her a fair wage, it will help to pay for her bills, more materials and her children's education. We are grateful for the opportunity to have worked with Leonor and are excited to bring her works to you!