I came to Threads of Peru in an unusual way. Not many people come to Cusco, Peru to live for the summer but after many twists and turns I arrived here, and in Terra Fuller’s apartment no less. After many in-depth discussions with her about Threads of Peru I became captivated by its extraordinary mission- simple and beautiful- Threads of Peru helps women weavers sustain their traditions and culture by connecting them to markets domestically and internationally. I wanted to be a part of this! It didn’t take long for me to ask Terra if it would be possible for me to volunteer and before I knew it I found myself en-route to Palqaq with Ariana, Daniel Sonqo, and Terra at 6 am on a Tuesday morning for the “entrega.” The entrega is where the weavers meet Threads of Peru to sell their products that were ordered 3-4 weeks previously. The meeting location, date and time of the entrega is arranged through a radio dispatch as there is no electricity or telephones in these villages. Our entrega’s success rests on the chance that this message is delivered successfullly.
As the wind whistled through my fleece on the precipice of the Andean mountains the Threads team huddled together waiting for any sign of the weavers. We were supposed to have met at 9 but by 10 no one had arrived. Were they coming? Had the received the message? We didn’t have too much time left since we had to make our way back to Rumira for our next entrega with another community of weavers. At about 10:30 we spotted some weavers far across the valley. “Yes!” we thought, “They got the message!” Once Daniel spoke to them and translated back to Spanish, it became clear that some of them had not yet finished their items and so that’s why they were late. One woman’s scarf was even wet!
So the entrega began, and I became witness to a real life fair trade process. Two weavers brought forth a beautiful woman’s poncho designed by Terra. The colors and draping were stunning, and Threads was ecstatic that a new item specially requested had been delivered successfully. A discussion with Daniel ensued about how much it was worth. The dimensions, intricacy of design and softness of the alpaca determined the item’s worth. As a master weaver, Daniel had the expertise to put the proper value on the item and ToP was sure to be fair to the weavers throughout the entire process.
As more women of the weaving association poured into Palqaq I was stunned by the amount of women that had carried babies, on top of their weavings, on their backs several hours to meet us. Threads of Peru tries to honor the traditional concept of ayni that exists in these communities. Ayni, roughly translated means, “today for you, tomorrow for me.” This means that Threads walks to their community for the pedido but the women walk to Palqaq for the entrega. Many foreigners, not understanding this concept, don’t include it in their programs and leading to the women feeling that they are not being respected properly. The women chattered in Quechua, helping each other to finish last minute details on their weavings, as Threads called each weaver up by name to discuss their pieces, take pictures, and write records of their finished products.
Me and Flor de Maria setting up loom to weave a bracelet, a new ToP product, that I helped to design.
I didn’t know what to expect when Terra invited me out to the entrega but I can safely say I learned a lot more than I expected. Thread’s mission is definitely admirable, and in practice it becomes more evident when you see all the work it takes just to get a single weaving to market. First, Threads has to hike many hours to the villages, help the weaver’s dye their wool with natural materials, and then coordinate Daniel Sonqo’s visit to the villages to re-teach weaving techniques that are being lost. After that, Threads describes what item’s they want to order that can be sold to foreign markets, and only weeks later can we pick up the items at the awaited entrega. Then Threads has to take the items back to Cusco to model, photograph, and upload to our online stores. Fair trade truly is a huge commitment that requires a lot of work by both parties, and watching this process unfold at the entrega gave me the true meaning of those two words that will shape the international markets of the future.