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Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru

by Awamaki
Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru
Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru
Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru
Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru
Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru
Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru
Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru
Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru
Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru
Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru
Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru
Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru
Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru
Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru
Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru
Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru
Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru
Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru
Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru
Women gather for the quality control meeting
Women gather for the quality control meeting

Nestled high in the mountains amongst the clouds, eighteen women work together in our most remote cooperative. During the rainy season, waterlogged roads and steep hills make for a dangerous ride to the community of Kelkanka. With the dry season in sight, we managed the bumpy 2.5-hour drive to host a quality control workshop on weaving, spinning, and natural dying with this secluded community.

When we arrive, the women appear in small groups carrying children bundled on their backs, big bags of yarn, and welcoming smiles. They chat to one another in Quechua before settling on the ground to start the training session. Mercedes Durant, head of our women’s cooperative program, has a packed agenda to work through in the next few hours, before the fast-changing weather will likely force us back down the mountain.

Today’s workshop is about the importance of color and design consistency. Making sure each item matches the last (and the next) is no small thing when the women are dyeing their own yarn and weaving each product by hand. We love the fact that every Awamaki product is unique, but we’re also committed to achieving high standards. Workshops like this help the women learn more about correct tension and precise pattern-matching.

Compañera Isodora, a member of the Kelkanka cooperative, studies the photos of Awamaki’s yoga straps and quickly memorizes their construction and pattern. Suzanne, a production and design intern, commented afterwards that “It’s amazing how many motifs the women here have committed to memory. There are so many possibilities and combinations.” The compañeras draw on an extensive knowledge of intricate designs of local animals and symbolic shapes when they weave their own clothing, especially their brightly colored mantas (shawls) that are iconic to this region. Those designs are handed down through generations, as daughters watch their mothers and skillfully learn by doing. To pick up the new Awamaki designs from studying a photograph takes this skill to a new level, as the women transform their existing knowledge of traditional shapes into new pattern combinations that draw on trends and fashions beyond Peru.

The women divide into groups – each responsible for a different colorway – and after a quick comparison of yarns to make sure they have the right shades, they get to work implementing the advice from Mercedes. Two metal stakes are tapped into the ground using a large rock, and a tape measure is used to determine the right length of the weaving for the yoga strap. A piece of wood is placed between the two stakes at both ends, and the women start passing yarn back and forth to each other, carefully counting out the number of threads of each color and checking the tension of every thread.

As she works, Isodora keeps one eye on her small daughter, playing at her side, whilst her compañeras monitor nearby animals that must be shooed away. Despite the distractions around them, the women stay focused, illustrating their great pride for their work and determination to produce a quality product. Mothers and daughters like cooperative members Eustakia and Valentina work and learn together – it’s remarkable to think that they will also be able to pass this new knowledge to future generations. In doing so, they will each earn income for their families, strengthen their sense of community, and gain independence.

We hope to soon begin construction on an artisan center for the weavers of Kelkanka. This center will give the women a dry, clean, lit space to spin, dye, and weave yarn away from the distractions of everyday village life. It will make a huge difference to their working environment, in turn allowing them to create pieces faster and to even higher standards. It will take them one step closer to making their own business relationships.

It’s thanks to support like yours that we can host these workshops and work with the women on Kelkanka to enhance their skills. If you’d like to continue your support and help us construct the weaving center please donate today.

All photos taken by Emily Hlavac Green, sponsored by Photographers Without Borders.

Mercedes explains color choices
Mercedes explains color choices
Companeras gather to review color sheets
Companeras gather to review color sheets
Close-up of a textile pattern sheet
Close-up of a textile pattern sheet
Weavers getting started without us!
Weavers getting started without us!

The women weavers of Kelkanka know how to color pop. Although a backdrop of lush green mountains and startling blue skies is hard to beat, the bright red colors, complicated beadwork, and woven motifs characteristic of their dress make them the unequivocal stand outs.

Even though the weavers of Kelkanka know to make a splash with color, we wanted to introduce the powerful dynamics behind color usage. Culturally, their preferences for color combinations are much different than what might appeal to potential customers – not everyone can pull off a rainbow skirt with geometric designs. Additionally, most weavers use synthetic dyes for their personal clothing because the dyes last longer and stay brighter in their harsh outdoor environment. In contrast, the woven products they make for Awamaki and tourists use natural dyes, which are more muted but celebrate traditional techniques. To tie these ideas together, one of our visiting designers, Celeste Ramos, organized a workshop on color theory.

When we arrived in Kelkanka, the meeting space was locked so we had to wait for the key. This didn’t stop the ladies from getting started without us – they excitedly gathered around the prepared posters, chattering quickly in Quechua while pointing at the examples with their Andean phuskas. The level of excitement rose a notch when we pulled out the sheets of paper, packs of crayons, and bags of fruit.

Mercedes, head of the women’s cooperative program, started the workshop with some fun warm-up exercises (it is cold in Kelkanka!). On her command the ladies moved about the meeting room waving their arms and switching seats. After the laughter faded, we got down to business explaining what the attention-grabbing colorful diagrams meant. Celeste and Mercedes worked together to cover concepts of primary colors, secondary colors, cool and warm colors, and color harmony. The diagrams were passed around the room as were Awamaki products illustrating the concepts. The women were extremely interested in examining the products and quickly arranged themselves in groups to examine them. Since Kelkanka is our furthest cooperative – it takes several hours to reach the community – the weavers rarely get to see their weavings incorporated into finished bags and purses.

The second part of the workshop was a crowd-pleaser because the women put what they had just learned into practice. We passed out blank color wheels and packs of crayons and tasked the group with re-creating the various color concepts. Interestingly, for the wheel of secondary colors some women chose to mix two colors to make a secondary color, while others sought out the secondary color from the crayon pack. Those that mixed the colors showed that they understood the color combination rules we had just covered.

The most difficult part of the workshop came last. We tested the weavers by asking them to hold up fruits that corresponded with the right color concept. The concepts of cool and warm colors were particularly hard for the weavers to remember. This abstract idea did not translate well into Quechua because of the language’s different understanding of the world and the natural environment. It seems silly to assign colors a temperature if you really think about it! Regardless, we reviewed the concepts one more time and then descended into a rainbow fruit feast with the women and their accompanying children.

Immediately following the workshop, Mercedes was skeptical if the women absorbed any of the concepts. She believed that they had fun but thought the ideas were too theoretical to really stick with them. However, a few months have passed since the workshop, and at a recent staff meeting Mercedes announced her desire to continue it with the other cooperatives.

She said, “The compañeras are doing a good job with their weavings. They are completing them on time and are heading in a good direction. I can see that they learned from the workshop on color, it is apparent in their recent designs.”

We are excited to lead the color workshops in the remaining cooperatives, and will update you all on their progress. Thanks to your generous support, we can keep carrying out these fun yet informative workshops!

Checking out an Awamaki bag
Checking out an Awamaki bag
Discussing the the color harmony sheet
Discussing the the color harmony sheet
Eustaria presents the primary color fruits
Eustaria presents the primary color fruits
Color pop!
Color pop!
Martha, Rina and Justa
Martha, Rina and Justa

This past week, we sat down with a few members of the Rumira knitting cooperative to hear their resolutions for the upcoming year. Rina, Justa, and Irma were measuring yarn for some knitting orders with Martha, our production coordinator, but they were still able to spare a moment.

Rina, Irma, and Justa talked about how they wanted more work in the coming year so that they would be able to support their children. Many of the women use their extra income from knitting orders to pay for their children's schooling, especially the costs associated with university. Collectively, the group also wanted to finish their crafts center and try out new knitting designs. Through the trainings and business development your donations help fund, the Rumira knitters have built a successful client relationship with one one client other than Awamaki. Their goal is to find another so they can build a healthy client portfolio. 

After talking with some of the knitters of Rumira, it is clear that graduating from our training model as an independent business is on their minds. They are excited about running their own business and they feel confident about the next steps they need to take. We want you to be a part of Rumira's graduation next year (our first cooperative to graduate!) but they won't get there without your continued support.
 
We extend our deepest thanks for a great 2016 that has gotten us, and the Rumira knitters to this point. Please consider them in your end-of-year giving and help them achieve their 2017 goals. 

In what has become an annual tradition, we have put together a video to thank you, our donors, as another year draws to a close.
 
We know that a lot of you live pretty far from our work. By giving us your time and funds, you show incredible faith in us. You also demonstrate your humanity by caring about impoverished women who live so far from you. The world needs people like you, and we are grateful. 
 
We wish we could bring you to Peru to see the incredible impact your donations have. This videois our best effort at bringing the joy of our work to you. We hope that it makes your day a good one. 
 
Thank you so much for all your support. 
 
Warmly, 

The Awamaki Team
p.s. Care to support these amazing women with your holiday dollars? Shop our store!

Links:

Awamaki Booth at NY NOW
Awamaki Booth at NY NOW

“You can’t design from a distance,” explained Anny Caba, an Awamaki Design Intern, to visitors of the Awamaki booth at NY NOW, as she described our unique design model that brings young designers to work with our artisans in Peru. Members of the Awamaki team traveled to NY NOW, a wholesale products and innovative designs tradeshow, in order to network with clients from all over the U.S. and further connect our artisans to international markets. Our beautiful, handmade Awamaki products drew visitors to the booth, but many stayed to hear more about our unique model of empowering women artisans.

Anny, recently returned from her experience designing alongside our artisans, chatted with potential clients not only about our designs and products but also her time in Peru. She explained that “many people were shocked that we don’t just import; they were impressed that we work in and out of Peru with the artisans directly.” Visitors also commented positively about our fair trade membership and use of natural dyes. Awamaki Executive Director, Kennedy Leavens, said that the interest Awamaki received at NY NOW was notably an improvement from the past. She emphasized that “it’s not just about the orders you place, but the connections you make. It’s about creating opportunities to connect the women to potential markets.”

What has Awamaki done to step up our game at these tradeshows? Annie Millican, the founder of Awamaki's design programs, then known as Awamaki Lab, stopped by our table at NY NOW. She attributed our success to the cohesiveness and color palette used in our products and collections. She noted that we had moved away from the classic Peruvian designs and colors in order to showcase traditional designs in modern colors and arrangements.  Awamaki’s transition to a more modern aesthetic that continues to display Peruvian culture impressed current and past members of the Awamaki design team alike.

Giulia Debernardini, Head of Sales, attended NY NOW and worked hard to turn our connections into concrete numbers. Overall, she reports that we made 5 new retail partners, 6 on-site orders, 50 new potential clients to connect with, and over $3,000 worth of sales at the show alone. 

Thank you for your support in helping our artisans develop the designs that we were able to present at NY NOW. Increasing business in this way will generate more work for our artisans and in turn more income that they can reinvest into their families and communities.

Awamaki Design Interns and their creations
Awamaki Design Interns and their creations
Awamaki reunion of Kennedy, Annie, and Anne Marie
Awamaki reunion of Kennedy, Annie, and Anne Marie
 

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Organization Information

Awamaki

Location: Ollantaytambo, Cusco - Peru
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @awamaki
Project Leader:
Mary Kennedy Leavens
Ollantaytambo, Cusco Peru

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Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.
   

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