Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at your favourite organization or brand? At Threads of Peru, our work is a nonstop cycle of dialogue and design. One of our key objectives is the promotion of the centuries-old Andean weaving tradition, preserving the continuity of cultural ties between past and present and valuing the rich layers of meaning encoded in every textile. A lot of the textiles we produce as part of the Quechua Collection, like our Illariy Scarves, are strictly a product of the artisan’s own creativity. Drawing on the knowledge passed from generation to generation, the weavers apply their own creativity to create unique pieces that are not only gorgeous to wear but also have a personal story to tell.
Historically, textiles actually did tell stories. I like to think of traditional Andean textiles as a conversation between maker and user. In the past, the end-user might have been the weaver herself, or a family member, or someone else from the community. Today, the end-user is often someone from half a world away.
The conversation being had today between maker and user is different than it once was, and I often think of organizations like Threads of Peru as interpreters facilitating this new conversation. This is where the design process comes in, as we collaborate on creating modern pieces that are as trendy and fashionable as they are culturally authentic.
A great example of this process is the Chaska Baby Alpaca Poncho. In order to appeal to a wider variety of tastes, we simplified the more traditional poncho design and adjusted the dimensions to create a more feminine look. The placement of the intricate woven designs creates an effect that is at once statement-making and timeless. I actually own a Chaska poncho myself, and I just love it because it is so wearable. Oh, and did I mention? The fact that we made it in baby alpaca – with all its natural health benefits and luxurious softness – means that this poncho is actually quite light and simply feels amazing to wear!
But the point of producing this design was not just to create a versatile piece of outerwear to add to your fall wardrobe, but also to spread the word about the amazingly rich cultural heritage of the Andean people, and to support the livelihood of indigenous women living in remote communities.
The name of our poncho is “Chaska” which means star in Quechua, and the principal motif in this women’s poncho is the ch’aska pallay, a traditional design woven in the community of Chaullacocha, where it is made. Moreover, this poncho has become the masterpiece of an extremely accomplished young weaver: Demesia Sinchi Echame.
Demesia is an amazing 26-year-old mother of three young children. Despite her young age, she has continuously proven herself as a leader in her weaving association, Ticllay Warmi, one of the network of weaving associations that make up Threads of Peru. Being one of the only members of her community to have attended high school, she speaks fluent Spanish and is able to read and write – making her the perfect choice for Secretary of her weaving association.
Demesia takes every opportunity to develop her leadership skills and advance the well-being of her community. In addition to her work in the weaving association, she recently became one of the first “Health Promoters” in her community. She underwent training to learn basic first aid and nursing skills, bringing a first line of defence to a community which otherwise lacks access to health care.
Weaving is Demesia’s only source of income. Her husband earns money selling the potatoes they grow at one of the local markets, as well as fleece from their herd of alpacas. With the money she earns from selling a Chaska Baby Alpaca Poncho, or any of the other products she and her fellow association members make, she invests in the wellbeing of her children, from school materials to nutritious food.
Demesia is proud that she is able to help support her family using the traditional skills passed down to her by her mother and grandmother, and we’re proud to support such an inspirational young woman!
Check out the Chaska Baby Alpaca Poncho to marvel at Demesia’s incredible skill!