Blog

  • Designing Between the Lines in Kelkanka

    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!

     

    Posted on March 22, 2017
  • Sustainable Tourism: Moving Songuillay Forward

    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 speak next 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 visual signatories 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 of the 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!

     

    Posted on March 21, 2017
  • Awamaki Impact Update: Tourism Sales

    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.

     

    Posted on March 21, 2017
  • Reflections and Resolutions with Songuillay

    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.

     

    Posted on December 29, 2016
  • Featured Cooperative: Rumira

    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.

     

    Members of the Rumira Cooperative at a knitting workshop
    Members of the Rumira Cooperative at a knitting workshop
    Posted on December 20, 2016
  • New Year’s Resolutions with Puente Inca

    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.

     

    Claudia

     

    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.

     

    Silvia

     

    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.

     

    Posted on December 15, 2016
  • 2016 Rising Star Cooperative Member: Rosa Benitez Mondaca

    Rosa cropped

     

    At first glance Rosa Benitez Mondaca doesn’t look like a risk taker. However, her secret for success is just that – she’s not afraid to try new things. This willingness to step outside of her comfort zone has paid off for Rosa, who is now producing knitwear orders for an independent client in Cusco.

     

    Rosa looks like a mom more than anything – a fact of which she is proud. Her nineteen-year-old son is in university in Cusco studying anthropology. She also has a sweet fourteen-year-old daughter who is disabled and stays home with her. When asked why she originally started working with Awamaki and the Puente Inca cooperative four years ago, she said “to help support my children more.”

     

    Rosa’s husband works full-time on their chakra, or farm. Because of this she lives far from the center of Puente Inca but is one of the most punctual members of the cooperative. Rosa doesn’t mind making the long journey for group meetings because of the chance to receive new orders and learn from the group. She is always encouraging her fellow cooperative members to learn new techniques and take on challenging orders, something they are hesitant to do. “When they don’t know how to do something, they don’t want to take the risk,” mentioned Rosa.

     

    When the owner of Hilo, a clothing store in Cusco, approached Awamaki asking if we knew of anyone who could knit custom sweaters on occasion, one candidate stood out. While the other members of Puente Inca might still be hesitant to take on a client like this, we knew Rosa was up for the job because of her consistent involvement with the cooperative and openness to new opportunities. She gladly accepted the position!

     

    Even though Rosa has found success working independently with a client, she doesn’t want to leave her cooperative behind. As the new year approaches, she hopes to help her fellow knitters learn new techniques, become comfortable with challenging orders, and work together as a group to take on an independent client.

     

    Personally, Rosa hopes to use her extra income to finish her house in 2017. She also hopes to continue to support her daughter and son in whatever they need next year. For her dedication to her family, her cooperative, and her work, we are honored to congratulate Rosa as the 2016 Rising Star Cooperative Member.

     

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    Posted on December 5, 2016
  • Check out our 2016 Holiday Gift Guide!

    Visit www.awamakistore.org to find these great gifts and more. All products are fair-trade and handmade by rural women in the Sacred Valley of Peru.

    Holiday Gift Guide 2016

    Posted on November 28, 2016
  • Help Awamaki Support Fair Trade This October!

    By: Alex Boehler, Marketing and Communications Intern

     

    The month of October means many different things all over the world. In the northern hemisphere the leaves are changing, nights are getting colder, and fall is in full swing. In the southern hemisphere the days are getting warmer, rain is starting to fall, and the earth is growing greener. October has one thing in common across the hemispheres; it is a time for change.

     

    At Awamaki, we celebrate this time of change in the form of Fair Trade Month. Although we highlight our artisans year round, October is a special month to focus on the principles that guide our activities with our cooperatives. So join us this Fair Trade Month in celebrating and supporting products that are fair – fair to humans, communities, women, children, the environment, and to ourselves.

     

    When you buy fair trade products at Awamaki, you are supporting:

     

    Women: When our artisans prove that they can help support their families, their partners will be more likely to share the responsibilities of the household, leading to more equality in the home. Asunta Quispe Yupanqui, a cooperative member, explained that because the women “are contributing income, they share their money with their husbands and make decisions about expenses together”.

    RESIZEDDD

     

    Families: A member of our Women’s Cooperative Program, Nicolasa, said “I now have the liberty to spend my money” and the cooperative agreed, saying that, “We no longer have to look in our husbands pockets”. When women are able to earn extra income themselves, they can spend it on what they value most like supporting their children’s education, making improvements on their homes, and promoting their family’s health by purchasing fresh vegetables and toiletries.

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    Communities: Members of our Women’s Cooperative Program collectively buy land for their weaving centers, making long-term investments that promote economic growth and sustain local culture. The women work together to enact change. Awamaki’s Director of Impact and International Sales, Giulia Debernardini, tells the women, “You are a team – not individuals. As an association, you must work together to improve yourselves and your products.”

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    The Environment: All of Awamaki’s products are local to the Sacred Valley. Awamaki’s Head Designer, Jess Sheehan, explains, “Our hand spun line is a completely integrated product. We start by shearing alpacas owned by the women’s families, which is then brought to our community in Huilloc to be cleaned and spun. After inspection, the wool is dyed using local plants, minerals, and insects and finally knitted or woven by members of the Women’s Cooperative Program into a final design.” Our unique vertical integration design model leads to a very small environmental footprint and gives you the confidence that your product is made working with the environment instead of against it.

    RESIZED5

     

    Tradition: Buying products that are unique to a culture help to preserve it. When a market is created for a traditional product, there is incentive to continue the tradition and thus preserve it. Eulogia Quispe, 13-year-old daughter of weaver Isabela Quispe, told Awamaki her dream is to grow up to “be a professional like my mother, [so] I am studying textiles”. Our traditional natural dye, color theory, and weaving workshops help sustain the growth of traditional folk art through generations.

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    Even if you can’t visit us in Ollantaytambo this October, you can always celebrate Fair Trade Month with us online. Share with us your favorite Awamaki fair trade product on social media, or visit our store at www.awamakistore.org to purchase one of our fair trade products.

    Posted on October 17, 2016
  • Meet the Songuillay Tourism Team

    Mercedes opens the Tourism meeting
    Mercedes opens the Tourism meeting

    “Even if you are doing well, there is always room for improvement. You have to continue to work hard and seek out ways to better yourselves.”

     

    The Awamaki team and Songuillay cooperative took to heart these wise words uttered by Mercedes Durand, head of our Women’s Cooperative Program, at the beginning of our tourism meeting this past July. Our Songuillay cooperative located in Patacancha has some of the best Awamaki weavers in its group, but they can now count themselves as a strong tourism association as well. During the tourism high-season this year, the group excelled at booking and leading tours, even getting some groups from external tourist agencies aside from Awamaki.

     

    We are proud of Songuillay, but noticed that their growing success was putting stress on Elena, their current president. Because Awamaki wants Songuillay to keep moving forward and have the organizational leadership to do so, we called a meeting with the group to elect a junta directiva, or leadership board, similar to those used by our weaving and knitting cooperatives.

     

    So without further ado, Awamaki and Songuillay are proud to announce the new 2016 Tourism Leadership Team!

     

    Elena Mamani, President
    Elena Mamani is the current president of Songuillay. She is an amazing leader but was unable to handle the increased responsibilities of tourism by herself. Having a new leadership team at her side will allow her to focus on improving the tour through training sessions in cooking, homestays, cleanliness, and anything else that will improve the experience of visitors to Patacancha. She will also continue working closely with the leaders of different tour rotation groups in order to get better feedback and hear new ideas. It has been amazing to see Elena grow into her role as a standout leader and have the confidence to call on her fellow cooperative members for help.

     

    Jesusa Quispe Machacca, Vice-President and Reservations Manager
    Jesusa Quispe Machacca is the current vice-president of Songuillay, and now their new reservations manager. In addition to shadowing Elena and helping her with trainings, Jesusa will be in charge of answering tour inquiries on the phone. Her cooperative members elected her to this position because she is fluent in Spanish as well as Quechua and has the confidence to travel to Ollantaytambo and Cusco to pass out tour advertisements. Her increased responsibility will allow Jesusa to hone her skills at tour promotion and working with Spanish-speaking tour operators.

     

    Albertina Yupanqui, Treasurer and Finances Manager
    Albertina Yupanqui is the new treasurer and finances manager of Songuillay. She is one of Awamaki’s top sellers during tours and knows her way around a numbers sheet. She will now be keeping track of payments for every tour as well as training the women in how to keep track of their own finances. At the end of each month she will be responsible for reporting to Awamaki the amount we owe to each tour group and to each individual weaver. We will also be keeping track, but this is a great learning opportunity for Albertina and the other members of Songuillay to see the correlation between how much they worked on what day and their resulting payment.

     

    Rudecinda Sullcapuma, Secretary
    Rudecinda Sullcapuma is the new secretary of Songuillay and rounds out the Tourism Leadership Team. Rudecinda will accompany Elena to training sessions and meetings to take notes. It’s a smaller job but an essential one so that the cooperative can have a record of their activities. Rudecinda was elected to this position because she can write, but more importantly because she is excited to improve her writing. She cannot write perfectly yet, but this will be a great opportunity for her to practice frequently and get better.

    sabina maria
    Sabina Medina smiles during the election of her fellow weavers
    Posted on September 20, 2016