Stepping Up to the Challenge

Stepping Up to the Challenge
By Brianna Griesinger, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

Over the course of the past year, we have realized that the development of our 2019 line, Kay Pacha, would be a year of change and growth for many of our artisans.

A few months ago, our team led a women’s empowerment workshop in Kelkanka; when we asked the artisans what they would like the theme of their next workshop to be, they unanimously requested: quality control. Since then, the women have demonstrated a strong interest in learning, and improving their textiles. They recognize that by developing this skill, it will act as a path that will lead them to receive more orders in the future. Not only is this path a priority for Kelkanka, but the Awac Puña cooperative in Patacancha has also been prioritizing the development of their technical skills.

“We’re very proud of that because it shows that the workshops have proven to be effective; they’ve taken it upon themselves to gain business, and we’re able to continue building them up as professionals,” head designer, Alejandra Carrillo-Muñoz asserts of the women.

“During design workshops and empowerment workshops, we stress to the artisans to have pride in their craft, the importance of punctuality and responsibility; because at the end of the day, when we’re not here they need to continue working this way with other clients,” Alejandra details. Looking at the bigger picture, the artisans need to have these skills going forward, and we are thrilled to know that the women are eager to learn them.

Every summer we begin working on our new line of artisan made accessories for the year to come. Samples are woven, colors are selected, designs are adjusted, and over the course of the following months, we see it all come to life, from the creative vision of Alejandra in collaboration with our artisans, to handmade products ready to be shipped across the globe. We work hard to get all of our product samples complete in time for the annual photoshoots, and before Alejandra leaves us for the year. You could say, we don’t just trust these tasks with just anyone, we call on the professionals.

This year we worked closely with five of our nine cooperatives to help with sample work, one for spinning, two for knitting, and two for weaving. While our spinners and knitters are seasoned experts at this time-sensitive project, this was the first time that Wakanquilla and Awac Puña had been tasked with such an undertaking. For the past ten years, we have delegated weaving samples to our most well-trained weavers from the Songuillay cooperative, however, they recently found themselves busy with their own new clients, a milestone for which we are extremely proud. We’ve been partnered with the 22 women of the Wakanquilla cooperative in Kelkanka for ten years, while the 30 women in the Awac Puña cooperative have been working with us for about three years now. Despite the short duration of our partnership, however, the women of Awac Puña have proven just how ready they were for the challenge.

Up until this point, the artisans of Wakanquilla and Awac Puña have been responsible for weaving only their own designs for our store in Peru, while they undergo color theory and quality control workshops. Weaving new designs is always challenging, despite it being their first time, they were able to read the two dimensional designs provided to them by Alejandra and making it three dimensional all on their own.

In a recent visit up to the community, Mercedes Durand, Head of Women’s Cooperatives, along with Alejandra, were able to check in with the artisans regarding some of the tools we have created to help the women execute the designs to their fullest abilities.

Most of these artisans have only ever designed from patterns that they keep in their heads, passed from generation to generation. It is difficult to imagine a transition to designs presented on a piece of paper. “While not an industry standard by any means, we’ve had to find our own set of tools specific to the communities with whom we work,” Alejandra explains, “‘cartulinas,’ that’s the name we gave them, and a concept we came up with. It is an aid for the artisans to be able to interpret two dimensional design.”

‘Cartulinas’ are customized cardboard tools that act as a specialized measuring device for their textiles. The artisans simply have to apply the cartulina to the textile they are weaving to ensure the spacing and alignment is up to quality control standards. “It’s kind of our way of helping them out and giving them a tool and a resource for them to interpret, the mix of contemporary design and traditional design.” Each design and individual product has its own cartulina to aid the artisan in charge of that textile, and while it is still a challenge, we know it has been tremendously useful for them to refine their newly learned skills.

“Orders for export come with a certain responsibility; we have to help them meet that responsibility by creating workshops that will support their understanding with what export is in general,” Alejandra explains, “we began that journey early in 2018 explaining what the international market is, what our role is, what role they serve within the organization; the follow-up to that was to get them weaving our initial samples.”

Wakanquilla has traditionally been a challenge for us to work with simply because of the distance from Ollantaytambo to Kelkanka. On a good day, the drive is at least three hours, and during the rainy season, the road may be blocked altogether. Therefore, training them to be ready for the demands of export quality production, though rewarding, has been a slow process.

The artisans of Wakanquilla have been working hard weaving textiles for the store in Peru, but they have not been ready for orders of export-quality textiles until this year. Mercedes has been an advocate of them, pushing our organization to invest more in their community and give them the same training opportunities as other cooperatives, despite the geographical challenges. Recently, we have been able to include them in design workshops in order to guide them to start producing samples of export-quality standards.

“Awac Puña slowly started proving themselves last year,” Alejandra points out. Although at this time last year, they were not turning in samples for the start of the new design season, they were stepping in to fill some orders for export throughout the year. They have proven their work to be of consistently high quality and have maintained a professional outlook about the work they have been completing.

“Not only are their textiles clean and consistent and meticulous in their craft, but they turn them in on time and are reliable; they’re very unified as group,” Alejandra eagerly remarks in relation to Awac Puña. “They’re very communicative amongst themselves. They help each other with samples, and it shows in the quality of their work.” We are excited to see them displaying leadership, strength, and potential for even more growth.

Kay Pacha, our 2019 line is on its way, and the women of Awac Puña and Wakanquilla have included many special touches on the pieces. Sampling, as part of the design process, inevitably leads to influences made by the artisans themselves. This year we are very excited to have incorporated ideas and traditional techniques that are unique to both of these cooperatives of exceptional artists. These never-before seen details are sure to make our new collection an exceptional one, one that would not have been possible without the dedication, determination, and development of each of our partner cooperatives.

About Awamaki

Awamaki is a nonprofit fair trade social enterprise dedicated to connecting Andean artisan weavers with global markets. We collaborate with women artisans to support their efforts towards educational and financial independence by co-creating beautifully handcrafted knit and woven accessories using hertiage techniques.