Empowering Women Through Design in Rural Peru

by Awamaki
Studying leather technique
Studying leather technique

Happy Bonus Day from Awamaki!

This Bonus Day, we want you to meet Laura and Meghan, two of Awamaki’s talented resident designer interns who have been hard at work with our seamstresses updating one of our new products.

Laura and Meghan have spent the last two weeks working on redesigning the clutch. After listening to our customers’ feedback, our designers realized that a few things needed to be changed. Among other issues, the leather finishes were difficult to align, so the top of the clutch was coming out crooked.

Rather than making a new product from scratch, Meghan said, “This was problem solving!”

In order to make the best product possible, they crafted several samples and used them to come up with ways to solve the problems and update the design with more modern textiles. “You realize that once you change one problem, it can lead to others,”Laura explained. The fashion student used her expertise as a seamstress to improve the bag’s overall quality.

Once they discovered the best design, they made suggestions to improve the order in which the pieces were put together in order to to streamline production. Last week, they sat down with our seamstresses to teach them how to make the entire clutch. To improve quality, they also taught the seamstresses a new technique. Laura and Meghan worked with Justa and Estela to teach them how to properly work with leather using leather glue and hammer. New to working with leather, Justa and Estela were excited about learning a new skill that they can apply to other products as well.

“This new technique makes the work come out so much better,” Estela told us. “I can use this for the Ivy Bag too, and other new products we are making.”

Your contributions enable us to fund the trainings that we do with the seamstresses so they can continue to refine their skills. This Bonus Day, please consider supporting their ongoing skills and design development with the artisans at Awamaki, and your donation will be matched by GlobalGiving to multiply your impact!

Thank you!

Working on leather
Working on leather
Previous clutch with crooked leather finishing
Previous clutch with crooked leather finishing
Redesigned clutch sample for teaching
Redesigned clutch sample for teaching


Knitter Rosa, right, with staff member Silvia
Knitter Rosa, right, with staff member Silvia

Dear friends, 

With your help, we have had a great year at Awamaki, and we couldn't have done it without you.

We now count 24 international retail partners carrying the women's products, up from nine last year. We have sold $110,000 of artisan products, up from $87,000 last year. We have put $120,000 directly in the hands of women, through our artisan products sales and our tourism program.

Ever wonder what all this means on the ground?

It means that 96% of the women in our programs report that their income has increased with our program.

46% spend the extra income on education, including school supplies, fees, or room and board for children at university.

38% use their extra earnings to save.

80% eat more meat and vegetables than they did before working with us. 

78% feel more confident to participate in decision-making processes within their cooperatives, communities or households. How do we know? Women say:

"I have a stronger position in the community through my connection to other women."

"I am not afraid to speak up anymore."

"I can work and earn my own money."

"I am more disciplined in my life."

"Now I interact more with people from outside my community."

"Our group meetings help us communicate at a higher level." 

This means empowerment that few women in these communities have ever experienced. It also means real changes in households. Women report their husbands helping spin wool, take care of kids, and even cook lunch, the main meal of the day, when they have an order to finish.

You are making these changes possible, and for that we want to say thank you. Next year, our goal is to teach the groups to manage their own order production, financial management and quality control. We don't want them to depend on anyone--not even us--to run their own businesses and earn a livelihood for themselves and their families.

We hope you will donate today to keep investing in the lives and empowerment of these women, and the futures of their children and their communities.  Thank you and have a great New Year!

Thank you from one of our weaving groups
Thank you from one of our weaving groups
Martha's staff picture

For this project report, we want to do something a little different. We want you to meet Martha, our newest staff member. 

We met Martha when we started working with our second knitting group, the Rumira group. Martha was a great knitter and the treasurer of the group. She was really impressive: responsible, smart, and a great knitter. 

So we offered her a job! This year, we added our seventh artisan group, and our production coordinator needed help. We brought Martha on board in May to help create products and manage the groups.

Martha is our first local in-house designer. As a skilled knitter, she creates new products, adjusts patterns, and spends lots and lots of time teaching the knitters how to make beautiful knitwear. She is the final word on quality control, and our business relies on her precise and consistent eye. She works with our international staff to understand trends, marketability and quality standards in the U.S.

Martha is a great knitter, but hadn't had much experience using a computer before--something we do a lot of at the office! After three months of training, though, she was picking it up fast. She now uses excel, word and email regularly. She is also proving herself a natural leader. She manages both of our knitting cooperatives and the spinners, and she is guiding them through our empowerment and business management trainings. 

When we asked Martha what empowerment means to her, she answered that for her, this means the ability to make your own decisions in lfe, instead of being dominated by your husband, and to have a feeling of control over your own life. She says,

"When I first started earning money with Awamaki, I was able to make more decisions about how we spend money in my house. Now, working for Awamaki, I feel more secure, and I can express my ideas and make decisions based on my own feelings...When I look at my fellow knitters from Rumira, I see these changes in their homes also."

Martha says that in Rumira, the women don't talk a lot about these issues. But as a leader and an Awamaki coordinator, she wants to change that. She doesn't feel like she has enough experience yet to give these trainings, but she is excited to be learning alongside other Awamaki staff. 

She got a chance to practice the other day at our first "Fair Trade and Empowerment Workshop." Martha went along to observe, but of course ended up translating, clarifying, and helping where she could. We are so lucky to have Martha as part of our team and a great example to rural women in the Sacred Valley!

P.S. We are so grateful to you, our supporters, for helping us offer economic opportunities to rural women like Marta and her knitting neighbors. We wish we could invite you for a cup of coca tea and host you for a visit, but we know that many of you live very far away. So, we made a video to invite you for a virtual visit and tell you how grateful we are for your support!

Marta teaching the spinners new skills
Marta teaching the spinners new skills


Estela with a leather bag
Estela with a leather bag

Hello dear supporters! We have some exciting news to share, and just in time for Bonus Day today! Our new collection for 2015 includes leather features to complement the handwoven textiles in our bags and totes. Our seamstresses are learning new skills and making higher value items that can fetch higher prices.

But there is one little detail. The machines that you all so generously helped us purchase a few years ago just aren't equipped to sew leather. The material is hard on the machines, and the seamstresses struggle to create strong, straight seams that look professional. As Justa explains, 

"The leather is thick and makes the needle jump. Sometimes, we have to force it through, and it does damage on the underside of the faric. That is why our work isn't as pretty when we are sewing leather on the machine."

With our current machines, our leather goods still look a little homemade. While that is of course very charming, it limits the clients for the bags to smaller stores and individual purchases. We think our artisans' bags are so beautiful that they belong in bigger stores all over the U.S., but we can't get there without a leather sewing machine.

Today, we are trying to raise $1500 for a leather machine, and we would love your help! Please donate so that we can purchase this essential equipment for the seamstresses. Expanding our collection to leather will allow them to learn new skills while supporting more weavers and generating increased income for these artisan women so that they can lead their communities out of poverty.  

Leather bag
Leather bag
Estela demonstrates the thick seam
Estela demonstrates the thick seam
Detail of difficult seam
Detail of difficult seam


The knitters in Rumira.
The knitters in Rumira.

This summer, two Awamaki staff represented over 100 female artisans on the west coast of the United States for two gift shows in Los Angeles and San Francisco. These shows allowed Awamaki to increase our artisans’ market access to west coast markets. During these shows, our staff managed to create over 15 new relationships with west coast retailers who will begin carrying our products this autumn.

The most popular items at the shows were baby accessories, our lace scarf, and a new hand woven scarf, all designed by our volunteers and in-house designers in collaboration with the artisans. Trade shows are also a learning opportunity for us as we work to enter international markets. At these shows, the new iPad case we brought didn't do as well as we hoped, so our lead designer is working with the seamstresses to re-envision it, perhaps as a clutch. Feedback like this from customers, as well as the relationships we can build with stores that care about fair trade and ethical sourcing, make trade shows like this invaluable to us as we connect more women artisans to global markets.

Sales Manager Callie was one of the staff members representing Awamaki artisans at the shows. "We have been working hard to build our wholesale partnerships. When our current retailers and new clients see our booth, they get to meet a sales manager who works with the women on a daily basis; this is so rare at trade shows," she said. "Most times, they have been in frequent contact with me and are excited to see a friendly face. This improves our visibility, builds trust in our quality, and most importantly, increases the orders that our cooperatives rely on.”

Seamstresses Justa and Estella weighed in on how the quality of Awamaki products has improved since we have started going to trade shows. “The drawings and colors are clear and of a higher quality,” Estella said. Justa added “The quality of the work has improved, especially with the new designs.”

Your continuing generosity will allow us to further gain entry into new markets and thus help the amazing women in our cooperatives. We are very enthusiastic about the progress of this project and are excited to see how our women and Lab evolve!

The lace scarf
The lace scarf
The hand-knit scarf
The hand-knit scarf
Our popular baby items!
Our popular baby items!
The Awamaki booth
The Awamaki booth
Weavers hard at work!
Weavers hard at work!

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Organization Information


Location: Ollantaytambo, Cusco - Peru
Website: http:/​/​www.awamaki.org/​
Project Leader:
Mary Kennedy Leavens
Ollantaytambo, Cusco Peru
$19,490 raised of $23,000 goal
406 donations
$3,510 to go
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