Captions by Catherine Jones, Marketing and Communications Intern
Photos by Steven Holland, Sustainable Tourism Intern
Our newest sustainable tourism cooperative Huilloc Alto is ready to host visitors! Check out a sneak peak below to see the breathtaking views of the community and hear about what our new two-day Andean Overnight tour has to offer.
By: Catherine Jones, Marketing and Communications Intern
An Awamaki product is born long before it reaches its forever home. During a natural process, weavers from our partner cooperatives will craft it by using ancient artisan traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation in their communities. By providing an insight into this process and showing the authenticity of creating fair trade products, we hope to enable readers to become more aware about where and how clothes, accessories, and textiles are made. So, join us on a journey with the artisans of Patacancha as we learn about the life of an Awamaki product!
A product’s life begins with the care and dedication the community of Patacancha devotes to their alpacas. A member of the camelidae family, alpacas’ gorgeously soft fiber is the source of our textiles. Women, or companeras as they are called in their communities, will walk for many hours along the peaks of the Andes to check on their herds. Their estancias (farms) include small huts with thatched roofs dotted around the mountains. These outposts provide shelter to companeras as they protect their alpacas from night-time predators such as Andean foxes and condors. At almost 14,000 ft (4,200 m) and in freezing cold and challenging conditions, these shelters can be live-savers. [photo 1]
Alpaca farmers, such as Juan Yupanqui and his family, still perform ancient alpaca ceremonies before shearing the animals for their fiber. By blessing the animals and harnessing the energy of the mountains, they hope for a prosperous year ahead. These ceremonies demonstrate the strong connection between the community, their alpacas, and their natural environment. In such a remote area, the lives of the people of Patacancha are intertwined and reliant upon their animals and land. This shines through in their admirable sense of respect for their surroundings and natural resources. [photo 2]
During the warmer months of December, January, and February it’s time to shear the alpacas and look in awe at the amazingly silky bundles of fiber they leave behind as they trot off lighter and cooler. A herd boasts a variety of colours and ages, but the companeras use the softest fiber, the first time an alpaca is sheared, to make baby products to clothe the most sensitive skin. [photo 3]
After alpacas have been sheared, the next step in a product’s life is to spin the fiber to create smooth and uniform yarn. Using the same technique passed down for generations, the women of Patacancha spin the raw fiber using a wooden drop spindle called a phuska. Visitors on our sustainable tours taking part in their first weaving lesson often find their phuskas tumbling towards the ground with fiber falling everywhere. But for the companeras, spinning is second nature. In the community of Patacancha there is a saying that if a companera has a free hand, she should be spinning — no matter if she is walking to her farm, caring for her children, or cooking a meal. [photo 4]
Once the fiber is spun into yarn it is ready to be dyed. This is one of the most transformative stages of the journey where the yarn changes from white into vivid colours. In a hot cauldron, the companeras mix the yarn with natural plant and insect dyes found in their community. Different shades of red, orange, pink, and purple are created using a dried beetle called cochinilla, greens are made using a plant called chilca, and a bright turquoise blue comes from a fungus called kinsukuchu. [photo 5]
Sage, maroon, mustard, navy, rose, grey, beige, violet… the yarn is now ready to be woven. The talent and artistry that goes into weaving is something the companeras start to develop from a young age. By the time they weave their first manta (a blanket used to carry everything from potatoes to babies on their backs) the women have mastered the art of weaving. They express themselves, their stories, and their soul through their chosen pallay (designs) which often include animals, flowers, or the landscape. Watching weavers such as Sabina at work, you would almost believe her fingers are magic. Every second she instinctively assigns each individual thread to its fate to create intricate designs (all while looking after her children too!) [photos 6 and 7]
Once the companeras have finished a weaving, the raw textile is sewn into one of our many Awamaki fashion and home accessories. When you take home one of our products, you are taking home a story as well. From its humble beginning as fiber on the back of a grazing alpaca to a colorful woven Peruvian textile, every Awamaki product has been on a journey that epitomizes the passion of the artisans. By preserving the traditional process of crafting textiles, the women of Patacancha are empowered to maintain their identity and culture.
Companera Dores Quispe sums it up best when she talks about her hopes for the future. “I want to see my children studying but also weaving. I want to see my community progress but keep its traditions.”
By Anna Reeve, Marketing and Communications Intern
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.
Since early June, our tourism coordinator Juan Camilo has been receiving calls inviting Awamaki to visit Huilloc Alto, a community situated on the steep mountainside above our current partner community of Huilloc. Fifteen women from Huilloc Alto have organized in the hope of collaborating with Awamaki as a tourism cooperative. After visiting the community for a 2-day, 1-night preliminary tour, we are excited to announce the group as one of our newest cooperatives!
On a bright sunny day in June, Awamaki met with the weavers of Huilloc Alto, who greeted us with warm smiles, hats adorned with flowers, and an enthusiasm that made us feel at home. After group introductions, our community translator Benedicto explained the importance of bringing tourism to the community. Even though Huilloc Alto boasts gorgeous views of the mountains and rolling slopes present in the Sacred Valley, its remote location has hindered tourism access and the ability of the weavers to sell their products. However, now that the community has a new road, visiting the it is much easier and quicker. The introduction of tourism will serve as an opportunity to connect the women with larger markets and in turn support their local economy.
Awamaki does not work with cooperatives unless they approach us with an organized proposal for partnership. This ensures greater community ownership and responsibility. Even though the women of Huilloc Alto approached us, we still wanted to gauge their perspectives on tourism before working with them. We asked the women a few questions about what they think tourism is, how it will impact their community, and why they are interested. The discussion revealed the following positive and negative sentiments:
“Tourism is showing my work and the outdoor nature of our community with others.”
“Tourism gives me the opportunity to show my work so I can support my family.”
“My husband works on the Inca Trail, and I want earn more money to support my family.”
“I don’t want tourists to bring their trash.”
“I don’t want tourists using the bathroom in the countryside.”
“I don’t want tourists smoking and drinking in front of my children.”
(We apologize for the lack of quote attribution. We are still learning the names of the Huilloc Alto weavers, and the quotes were shared during a group discussion involving Quechua-Spanish-English translation.)
After our discussion with the weavers, they gave us a tour of their community. They taught us how to identify and use the native medicinal plants found in the countryside. We also hiked to a nearby lake that reflects the beauty of the surrounding mountains. These unique features distinguish the community of Huilloc Alto from the other communities with whom we currently work.
Benedicto, our community translator, believes that “the medicinal plants, the beauty, and the warmer climate of Huilloc Alto,” will make it a memorable destination for tourists. Of course, getting to know community members will also be something that tourists remember. During our hike to the lake, weavers Jesusa, Avelina, and Juana excitedly showed us the various plants native to the area, taught us new Quechua words, and laughed and chatted with us like we all were old friends.
Awamaki is excited to start tours with the Huilloc Alto community. Our final question to the women was what they hoped tourists would take away from an experience visiting them. The group universally expressed their enthusiasm for sharing their culture with others. We believe future tours with Huilloc Alto will be successful because the community’s beauty is evident in both its physical surroundings and the welcoming nature of the local weavers. Awamaki will soon be starting tourism workshops to prepare the community for their first of many tours next month. Thanks to support from donors like you, we can make sure our newest tourism cooperative Huilloc Alto is off to a great start!
By Alex Boehler, Marketing and Communications Intern
“Qué estás haciendo?” What are you doing? a local man asked. We admit it was a unique sight. At 13,000 feet, our staff members were hiking towards the Kelkanka weaving cooperative toting bags brimming with colored pencils, markers, and paper. We understood why the man was a little confused, but to us our mission was clear: to bring art supplies up to our weaving cooperative for a design workshop and weaving contest.
The workshop taught design, color, and weaving concepts through an interactive trend and fashion presentation. The specific goal of this workshop was to improve design skills and quality control, followed by a fun, competitive way for reviewing concepts covered. So after the design workshop concluded, we brought out the colored pencils, markers, and paper and announced the design contest. We passed out the supplies to the women, and each was given the task of drawing their own design that they would later weave into a textile. The women were given parameters to focus on, such as size, color palette, and aesthetics. And then, with paper and colored pencils as their tools and our parameters in mind, the women started coloring.
Jess Sheehan, our Head Designer, was excited to see the design results. “Our goal in having the contest after the workshop was to test the effectiveness of our training and to foster new designs created within certain parameters; something we like to call, ‘designing between the lines,’” she said.
The contest was held in three of our partner weaving cooperatives located in the communities of Kelkanka and Patacancha. In the end, we selected three winners, one from each cooperative, as well as first and second runners-up. The winners were chosen using a rating scale from one to five based on things like color composition, motifs, neatness, length, creativity, and punctuality. When all of the scores were averaged, the woman with the highest score was the winner from that cooperative. The prize: 50 soles and the pride of having your original design named among the top in your cooperative.
In the end, the design workshop and contest meant more to Awamaki than just selecting a winner. The workshop and contest were a tangible way to see our mission of fostering women’s empowerment by investing in their skills and leadership and connecting them with global markets in action. Furthermore, the contest showed us just how influential our design workshops could be. At Awamaki, we are constantly amazed and inspired by the work of our partner women’s cooperatives!
By Sydney Perlotto, Marketing and Communications Coordinator
When we ask our partner cooperatives what they dislike about participating in out programs, we often only get silence in return. The weavers assume that if they give us negative feedback, we won’t work with them anymore. Of course, this isn’t true, and when we overcome this assumption we receive fascinating feedback.
“The thing that I hate about tourism is that my husband treats the tourists better than he treats me. When I want to eat something nice, he doesn’t cook it for me, but when the tourists request something, he cooks it.”
Margarita Sinchi shared her complaints about tourism during the first of a series of workshops we hosted in the community of Patacancha. Designed by Awamaki’s tourism coordinator, Juan Camilo Saavedra, these workshops aim to move the tourism cooperative of Songuillay towards further independence. Though the cooperative currently receives tourists from Awamaki, they want to be able to host independent tourists passing through their community, especially as the nearby Lares trek becomes increasingly popular.
The workshop began with Juan asking the members of Songuillay how they define tourism, what they like about it, and what they dislike about it. To make sure silence wasn’t an issue, the women chose amongst themselves who would speaknext by dressing them in a sparkly tie. Juan Camilo said that “the dynamic was very interesting because they were laughing and attentive. They were waiting to see who would be chosen next.”
When Margarita was chosen to speak on her negative feelings towards tourism, she didn’t hold back. Even though many of the women laughed at her sassy answer about her husband, it highlights how tourism is changing the culture of the community. After Margarita’s comment, the group further opened up about changes they have seen. Many of the women mentioned that over the last decade people have started wearing their traditional clothing. People had stopped wearing mantas and ponchos, but tourism motivated them to wear these visualsignatories of their culture again. Several in the group thought this was a positive side effect of increased tourism but were saddened that it didn’t happen organically through cultural pride.
After the group thought about how tourism has impacted their lives, Juan Camilo tasked them with thinking about how tourism impacts other communities. He showed the cooperative several videos about rural community tourism in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. Initially, the women were surprised at how drastically different the communities looked, whether it was the people’s appearances or their environment. Many thought that the living conditions ofthe people were quite harsh but were impressed that the community was still attempting to do tourism. Elena Mamani, president of the Songuillay tourism cooperative, commented that “if these people, who we didn’t know existed, in these places, that we didn’t know existed, are able to do tourism, then we should be able to do it too.”
The workshop ended on a motivational note with the cooperative members chattering excitedly about what was to come next. Juan Camilo plans to host five to six more workshops covering various topics, ranging from community qualities to marketing opportunities. The end goal of the workshops – as with all of our capacity-building trainings – is to move the cooperative further towards independence and the ability to run their own tourism business independent of Awamaki. With the completion of this workshop, Songuillay has taken another giant step forward!
By Chloe St. Thomas, Monitoring and Evaluations Intern
At the beginning of a sustainable community tour with Awamaki, our partner weavers and teachers greet tourists with warm smiles and bunches of flowers. After introductions, the women demonstrate how to spin and naturally dye alpaca and sheep fibers. Next up is the main event – a one on one weaving lesson! During this time, tourists can talk and learn more about the art of the backstrap loom straight from their personal weaving teacher. Through this interaction, tourists gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the hard work of the weavers, and thus they often purchase textiles from the women at the end of the lesson.
Tourists that attend an Awamaki tour are highly likely to purchase a textile from one or more of the women afterwards because of this bond with their weaving teacher and an understanding of her work. Nothing makes you appreciate how difficult something is like trying it for yourself! Our numbers on income from tourism activities compared with income from general Awamaki and client orders illustrate this. In 2016, our artisans made twice as much from tourism than from traditional orders. The average order income (per woman) for 2016 was 766 soles (about $250 USD), whereas the average tourism activities income (per woman) was 1,645 soles (about $500 USD). Our partner artisans in the two tourism cooperatives (Huilloc and Songuillay) have a higher average income than the other five cooperatives that sell textiles to Awamaki and other clients. The reason the women in tourism make more isn’t from the tours themselves. Though they do earn income from their demonstrations during the tour, the income is marginal compared to what they earn from personal sales made to tourists at the end of the tour.
Awamaki understands the financial importance that these personal sales bring to the women and their families. For this reason, we have expanded our tourism program and allotted more time at the end of the lessons for these personal sales. From 2015 to 2016, there was a 49 percent growth in the women’s average income from tourism. Last month, we began working increasingly with women in the Songuillay cooperative to get them ready to hold tours on their own. Through a series of workshops, our hope is that they will be equipped with the skills they need to successfully lead tours when the opportunity presents itself in their community.
Check out the 2016 reflections and 2017 resolutions of Elena, Albertina, Estefania, and Placida below!
Elena Mamani Quispe
Looking back, Elena thinks that 2016 was a success because Songuillay bettered itself as an organization. The group implemented a new tourism rotation schedule, worked on group unity, and improved their punctuality with weaving orders. She feels that overall the group became more responsible for their work with tours and weaving.
Next year, Elena hopes that Songuillay continues to improve. Specifically, she wants the group to improve their hospitality for tourists in the areas of food, housing, punctuality, and responsibility. She knows that they are on their way to becoming a well-organized group if they continue to move forward with determination.
For her personal goals, Elena wants her children to continue in their studies. She is thankful that income she receives from weaving allows her to better the educational opportunities available to her family. As a leader in her community, Elena also aims to unite her community with her cooperative in joint efforts.
Albertina Yupanqui Cjuro
For 2016, Albertina’s biggest take-away was the increased punctuality of the Songuillay group. They worked better together as a team to improve the quality and timing of their weaving orders. In tourism, the group learned many things in workshops, and Albertina is personally learning a bit more Spanish to help her in her leadership role as treasurer and financial manager.
With the new year in mind, Albertina hopes that the group can improve the delivery of textiles as well as punctuality and organization for tours. She also wants them to adjust their tourism and weaving center so that it’s ready for a busy year.
Personally, Albertina hopes that in 2017 her children will continue with their education and studies. She also wants them to be good people! She has taken it upon herself to be a good leader, so she plans to attend all group meetings and present new ideas that could advance the cooperative.
Estefania Machaca Riquelme
Estefania saw increases in the number of tours and weaving orders that the group received in 2016. Because of this, she contributed economically to her family, something that made both her and her husband happy.
Next year, Estefania believes that the Songuillay leadership team will improve their confidence and punctuality for orders. The group will also work on improving tourism services through beautification and comfort. Estefania thinks tourism will be improved if the group builds a secure structure to store supplies for tours. It will also mean that they don’t have to transport everything from home.
For her family, Estefania wants understanding and communication between all members. She also wants her children to continue studying. For her community, she wants to make things better by supporting community leaders and listening to others’ ideas.
Placida Mamani Quispe
Placida was proud that in 2016 Songuillay was able to find and establish ownership over a piece of land and build their weaving center. In 2017, she wants everyone to work together with the president to better the organization of the group. She hopes that there will be more orders for weavings and an increase in tourists who want to visit their community.
2017 is also the year that Placida wants to build rooms to host tourists in her home and improve how she hosts them. Placida also wants to work with her neighbors to improve community tourism, which will in turn increase the economic support of everyone’s family.
Our featured cooperative this season is Rumira, also known as the Asociación Virgen de Carmen! Over the past year, Rumira has formed an independent client relationship with Cocoliso, the owner of a wool and knit clothing store in Cusco of the same name. They have also almost completed their community artisan center. We are so proud of the group for completing these major stepping stones towards full independence!
When Awamaki heard that Cocoliso was looking for expert knitters to produce her designs, we immediately connected her with our Rumira group knowing they would be a great fit. We weren’t disappointed. Since meeting with the group to assess their skills and negotiate the details of their relationship, Cocoliso has now placed several orders of knit gloves, hats, and sweaters from Rumira, totaling S/. 10,000 in profit for the group.
Rumira’s rapid progress through Awamaki’s Impact Model is what has made their client relationship with Cocoliso so successful. The group has now completed 73 percent of the Impact Model, compared to last year’s 53 percent. Through the guidance of the Impact Model they have gained skills in tax management, customer service, and salesmanship. A visit to an alpaca fashion cooperative in Puno also enabled the group to learn directly from the best practices of already successful and independent groups.
Rumira’s hard work has been rewarded in more ways than one. In addition to their new client, they now have a space where they can work. The Rumira Artisan Center is almost fully completed, with only the windows and bathroom left to be installed. The completion of the weaving center is a significant moment in the growing independence of the cooperative, for the women finally have a place to call their own. They can now use the space to store their knitting and weaving equipment and take the time to improve their skills away from the distractions of home.
Over the next year, Rumira will work on bookkeeping, personal branding, and sales follow-up to carry out more orders successfully, build their client portfolio, and ultimately strengthen their relationship with Cocoliso. Together, the 24 members of our Rumira cooperative can also work to put their special touch on their weaving center, a place that will represent their identity as a successful, independent business once they graduate from the Awamaki Impact Model.
Some of the knitters of the Puente Inca cooperative have already set goals for the new year. Read their resolutions below to find out what they personally and professionally want to achieve in 2017.
Maritza Baca Espinoza:
Maritza hopes that in 2017 the Puente Inca group will be able to work independently with a business in the Cusco region. She wants the group to finish their artisan center, especially the second floor, so that they can host visitors to their cooperative and have a permanent place to meet and work. Personally, Maritza aims to save enough to finish building her house, which still needs to be painted and furnished well. By making these improvements, she will be able to host tourists and use her extra income to buy more animals for farming.
Claudia Ccahua Huaman:
In 2017, Claudia wants to spend more time with her family, including her two younger brothers who have recently been away from home. Her favorite part of 2016 was working with the cooperative on knitting orders, and she hopes that there will be more work in 2017. She knows a big part of this is to keep improving the quality of her knitting, so she looks forward to participating in more Awamaki workshops next year.
Silvia Escobedo Alvarez:
Silvia aspires to a 2017 where her work benefits her children. To do this, she wants to work more as a team with her fellow cooperative members. She believes that if they have more group training sessions, then they will continue to advance as a group. Silvia looks forward to the completion of the Puente Inca artisan center next year because it will facilitate greater teamwork.
Gabina Sarcca Choque:
Gabina’s goal for next year is to work enough to pay for her daughter’s studies. She also sees the need for the group to have more trainings to improve the individual quality and collective organization of the group. By doing this, she is confident the Puente Inca cooperative will get more knitwear orders. Gabina also wants to branch out and add weaving to her workload in addition to knitting.