Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru

by Awamaki

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. 

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


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
Mercedes and Giulia at Peru Moda
Mercedes and Giulia at Peru Moda

Awamaki staffmembers Giulia and Mercedes recently hosted our booth at PeruModa, a three-day Peruvian product exhibition. There, we connected with retailers from all over the world, including Japan, Korea, Europe, United States, Peru, Canada and Venezuela. At our booth, we showcased our new colors and designs, which met a very positive reception. Overall, we were able to make more than 50 connections with potential clients and collaborators. These potential clients were extremely receptive to learning about how we work with our women weavers, and we are now working hard to turn those new connections into new orders.

“The best part about Peru Moda was meeting face to face with many known designers and brands. It was great for Awamaki to get this exposure and to connect with people who share the same passion for sustainable fashion,” said Giulia Debernardini, our Head of Sales and Impact Evaluation.

Mercedes, her colleague and Head of Women’s Cooperatives, explained that “Peru Moda was an opportunity for us to exhibit our products made by women and by hand. Valuing and preserving traditional techniques is important in an increasingly globalized world with local, national, and international markets. To work within these markets is fundamental in order to continue our institution and provide a greater economic opportunity for our groups.”

Thank you for your support in helping our artisans develop the designs that we are able to show at PeruModa! Orders from the clients that we meet there sustain the artisans and their families.  

Pssst! Are you excited about helping Awamaki and our artisans connect to the broader world of textiles and design? We are raising funds through a GlobalGiving microproject to send Mercedes and her colleague Martha, both our Quechua cooperative coordinators, to the U.S. where they have been invited to present at a national textile symposium. Learn more and support their trip now or this upcoming Bonus Day, June 15th!

Awamaki booth at Peru Moda
Awamaki booth at Peru Moda
Inspecting the yarn
Inspecting the yarn

“We arrived at Patacancha early in the morning only to be greeted by beaming women and a pot of potatoes for breakfast. It was quite clear that our weavers had already been hard at work for many hours.”

Carys, an Awamaki Sustainable Tourism volunteer, was immediately impressed by the Songuillay cooperative members upon her arrival in Patacancha for the natural dyes workshop. Members of the cooperative got up bright and early to prep for a full day of natural dyeing for Awamaki’s 2016 wholesale line. The Songuillay women have been doing so well that they were able to pay for a natural dyes expert, Andres, to lead the workshop. Andres divided the women into five different groups and each group worked to develop the same pre-arranged colors. It was hard, but by the end of the day each group had an amazing color explosion hanging on the drying line.

The concentration of our weavers did not waver as Andres carefully conducted them through color pallet, ranging from the bright greens and yellows created by the ch’ilka plant to the fierce reds and purples created by the cochineal beetle.

Even through the women were under the instruction of Andres, their preparation was what made the day a success. At the previous dye workshop the year before, the women where not prepared at all when Awamaki arrived with the dyes expert. The woman did not know what to do, and we had to start everything from scratch, which took time. In contrast, when Awamaki arrived this year, the women were already split into groups and each had their own fires built under huge pots of boiling water. All the materials were laid out and ready to go. Jess, our Head Designer at Awamaki, described how wonderful it was that the women were so prepared.

“It was a moving day to see how organized our weavers were and how much initiative they took in preparing the yarns for dyeing. They were so interested in learning and their confidence increased throughout the day. They started asking my opinion or running over to other groups to ask them how they got their color a certain way.”

Some of the men from Patacancha were hanging around and would occasionally help out, but the women continued to run the show. Karina, a Women’s Cooperative Program volunteer, was amazed by the women’s dedication to both their work and their family.

“Groups of women were gathered around the pots of steaming, colorful dyes – spinning, mixing, dyeing, drying. What’s incredible is many also had a baby on their back or a toddler at their feet!”

Andres did a wonderful job directing the women throughout the day in the art of color creation. However, in the future we want to train a few women from each cooperative to become experts in the natural dyeing process so we no longer have to hire outside of the community. These women would be responsible for leading the dye workshops not only in Patacancha but also in Kelkanka. They would have to attend all of the dyeing workshops in order to learn the complicated process, such as how the dyes react together and how much fiber you can mix in with each batch of dye. It truly is a huge commitment to learn and take on, but we are sure that our cooperative members can rise to the challenge! Supporters like you enable our cooperative members to gain new skills in design, and in turn empower them to reach for the rainbow (of natural dyes!).

Experimenting with color
Experimenting with color
Marleny and her son, Samir
Marleny and her son, Samir

For nine months, she carries another human being inside of her; for eighteen years, she is a cook, nurse, teacher, janitor, taxi driver, and cheerleader; and for the rest of her life, she is more invested in another person than she is in herself.

Motherhood is, hands down, one of the hardest jobs in the world. A mother’s boss is several decades younger than she is and can be one of the most thankless employers on the planet. Like a doctor, she is on call all night long—every night. Like a politician, her behavior must be exemplary, even when it seems as though no one is watching. Like a farmer, she is responsible for keeping her crop alive and happy in conditions that are largely beyond her control. There’s a little more pressure, though, when your crop is a human being. 

Women worldwide can relate. When I asked a few women in our Rumira cooperative about the hardest part of being a mom, the answers were the same as what I’ve heard from my own mom for years: maintaining a clean house, keeping the kids focused on their schoolwork, thinking of something different to cook every night. When I asked what they would do with 1000 soles, each woman immediately answered that she would invest it in her children. (When I asked what they would buy for themselves, one woman giggled and answered, “clothes”—and I think a lot of women, mothers or no, can relate to that.)

Motherhood brings its own unique challenges in Peru’s Sacred Valley. Even in Rumira, one of the least remote of Awamaki’s partnering communities, most of the women with whom I’ve spoken did not make it past primary or secondary school, as many began having children in their late teens. Despite a limited education, some are the primary breadwinners for their families, supporting their husband and several children on the profits from their knit goods. They are expected to tend to the family’s farm daily, often with an infant strapped to their back or a toddler in tow. If the in-laws need anything, their daughter-in-law must be available. To the already endless list of a mother’s titles, add weaver, farmer, and caretaker of the elderly.

For Marleny, a member of our Rumira cooperative, the list goes on. Marleny, who didn’t finish secondary school as a teenager, is now a full-time student at a vocational school in Urubamba studying computation and computer science. When she isn’t knitting to fill Awamaki orders or cooking and cleaning for her family or mother-in-law, she is taking care of her two-year-old son, Samir—and planning for his education. Though Samir is still learning to talk, Marleny is already working to pay for his university tuition, something that is financially out of reach for most families in the rural communities of the Sacred Valley. “I want him to finish his studies and do something in life,” she says.

And for Marleny, that means continuing to wear her many hats, continuing to sacrifice sleep and time to herself to fulfill her endless to-do list, and continuing to invest in her own education to ensure that she will always be able to invest in her son’s. But like most other moms that I’ve met, there isn’t an ounce of hesitation in her voice. When I ask her about the hardest part of being a mother, she just laughs and says, “That’s a hard question. It’s hard to raise a child.” But when I ask about the best part, she answers without hesitation: “When I teach my son something and he learns.” And with all that she does, there is plenty to learn from her. Motherhood may be one of the hardest jobs on the planet, but it sure suits Marleny well. 


About Project Reports

Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.

If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating.

Get Reports via Email

We'll only email you new reports and updates about this project.

Organization Information


Location: Ollantaytambo, Cusco - Peru
Website: http:/​/​www.awamaki.org/​
Project Leader:
Mary Kennedy Leavens
Ollantaytambo, Cusco Peru
$23,210 raised of $28,000 goal
418 donations
$4,790 to go
Donate Now
Donating through GlobalGiving is safe, secure, and easy with many payment options to choose from. Learn more.
Add Project to Favorites

Help raise money for this important cause by creating a personalized fundraising page for this project.

Start a Fundraiser

Learn more about GlobalGiving

Teenage Science Students
Vetting +
Due Diligence


Woman Holding a Gift Card
Gift Cards

Young Girl with a Bicycle

Sign up for the GlobalGiving Newsletter

WARNING: Javascript is currently disabled or is not available in your browser. GlobalGiving makes extensive use of Javascript and will not function properly with Javascript disabled. Please enable Javascript and refresh this page.