Let’s get to know more about Peru’s notable sustainable weavers!
Cusco is wrapped with brightly coloured textiles, as if sauntering in every street and corner of this vibrant town of artisans. This may just look like an everyday sight for the villagers, but it was definitely a spectacle for my curious eyes.
I was on this journey to get to know the Peruvian artisans who bring Pasos products to life. We found Nataly working at her shop – it was a yellow house tucked in a corner street in Cusco. Entering her house is like entering a plant lover’s dream home. Nataly is a biologist and a designer. She somehow found a way to merge her love for plants and fashion and pour that knowledge into her designs.
I visited her workshop longing to see Peruvian vintage textiles and how she transforms them into unique masterpieces. And what a delight that moment was! All the textiles in her workshop are sustainably made with animal fibres – from sheep wool to alpaca, even vicuna wool, which is considered the rarest natural fibre in the world. How amazing is that?
Nataly’s weaving journey began when she was only 10 years old. One day, she saw a piece of fabric and a needle and started stitching. With her mom guiding her and adding some final touches to her little project, Nataly then made her first coin purse.
A few decades later, she found herself excelling in her career as a Peruvian designer. Her parents were school teachers and entrepreneurs. Her family-owned store "Quipu Cancha", was regarded as one of the best handcraft stores in Cusco. As tourism grew in their little side of the world, so did their business. Her mom would create accessories from textiles sold by farmers who visited the town. In 2019, Nataly, who is already an established artisan, started to work with different Peruvian brands, and her styles and designs were starting to gain attention nationally.
Natural by design
Nataly studied biology, no wonder why she loves spending a lot of time in her greenhouse.
“My design inspiration comes from nature. I love to work with colours, combining different hues and shades,” muses Nataly.
She started working with solid and bright colors after she saw a purple and green begonia flower. “I copied a flower, just like that I see something in nature and right away, it becomes a design,” she adds. “We don’t create anything; you just have to open your eyes and observe what God has already created for us. Take that and pour it into whatever you like to do”. Nataly started to take pictures of flowers, which led her to combine bold colors like turquoise and brown, green and orange, and pink and yellow into one design.
Working with the textile weavers
To express full appreciation for the weaving culture from the highlands of Peru, we have to understand that they were farmers first. Their main duty is to provide for the needs of their family and community. They weave textiles because of their need for clothing to protect them against harsh weather conditions and cold temperatures. Their weaving style follows an ancestral technique that has been passed down from generation to generation. They would weave potato sacks, shawls, skirts, pants, and many more. So, you can get the picture that they were not accustomed to weaving custom designs.
Nataly collaborates with other artisans to craft the textiles that she designs and turns into different pieces. There are a number of challenges to bringing these designs to life, but she always finds a way to make things happen. These challenges vary from the lack of internet access, which makes communication challenging, to the lack of education and language barriers.
“I would have to live in the same town as the artisans and guide them so they could weave my design, or else they would change it without notice. They’re informal, and if they run out of one color, they change your design with no hesitation,” she notes.
Nataly tells us that in the past, weaving was mainly done by women. These days, everyone in the community puts their shoulder on it. You can now see men weaving as well, splitting duties between farming and child-rearing. They would even encourage their children to learn weaving at a young age. "Thanks to them we have the textiles needed for our designs. These textiles are not perfect, because each is unique and rare. It’s like a treasure that they share with the world”, she adds.
Weaving in the modern-day
The art of textile weaving is slowly disappearing. To preserve this ancestral heritage, the Peruvian Government created campaigns to support these weavers, as well as emerging entrepreneurs.
These days, the Peruvian handcrafting industry is alive and vibrant as both tourists and locals support and promote these artisans’ products. You can see people wearing Peruvian manta backpacks. You can see houses decorated with Peruvian manta cushions. Nataly shares that “the mindset of Peruvian people has shifted. Before, it was embarrassing to wear a ‘chullo’ or a ‘poncho’ because racism was strong against the mestizo people, the people from the highlands, the indigenous that speak Quechua.”
A designer’s dream
“I see some designers in Cusco that don’t care about sustainability. Instead, they use synthetic material from China and make it look like an “artisan-made” textile when, in reality, it is not,” warns Nataly.
She then showed us the difference between two fabrics, one that is handmade with natural sheep wool and another one made in China. “This is not an original; it lacks the essence of the artisanal nature of a Peruvian hand-woven textile”.
In contrast, Nataly and her husband, create designs using authentic Peruvian textiles that are sustainably made by hand. She has a team of stitchers and weavers that she trains to design using eco-friendly practices and work with world-class excellence. “That’s when I see the character of a person, humble and flexible; a fast learner who can take constructive criticism and correction”. Every piece is created to meet Nataly’s quality standards.
When asked where she sees herself in five years, she quickly muses, “I know God has a good plan for my life; there’s nothing impossible for Him. I see myself in an international runaway showing off my designs to the world.”
You can own one of Nataly’s designer pieces here at the Pasos online shop.