Weaver in Cusco, Peru
Photo: Andigia

“What we save, saves us.”

And it is with this statement of preservation, we explore the collision of two worlds: ancient weaving techniques with modern fashion design.
As more and more focus is given to sustainability and ethics in the world of fashion, alongside commitment to innovation, we will be looking at how weaving techniques from Central and South American countries are reinvigorating ancestral skills and defining a new approach to luxury. Most importantly, is how these brands are supporting some of the world’s most marginalised communities.


Aymara woman weaving
Aymara woman weaving and a little lamb. Photo: Ruslanita
south american waeving technique
Photo: Luc Diebold

Traditional weaving can be found in many cultures but is usually associated with the Americas and South Asia. These skills are passed down generationally between families where master weavers teach younger members of the community this complex art form. It is no easy feat – some foot looms can take up to two days to assemble.
Here in Peru, pre-Columbian civilisations such as the Waris and the Paracas produced some of the most dazzling textiles the world has ever seen. With specific attention to complex dyeing techniques and artistic identity, these textiles appear so modern today because of their rich geometrical motifs and textures. In fact, many modernist movements such as the Bauhaus in early twentieth century Germany have taken direct inspiration from them.
Today, the descendents of these textile masters continue the tradition, and are often situated in remote and inaccessible parts of the Andes and suffer harsh weather conditions, not to mention a lack of access to education and health services. Weaving is often the main source of income for families, which is why preserving this handmade art form is so necessary.

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made by voz weaving
Made by VOZ Summer 2016 collection. Photo: Made by VOZ
made by voz winter 2016
Made by VOZ winter 2016 collection. Photo: Made by VOZ

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Recognising weaving as a method to empower indigenous communities is the foundation of a number of key brands that work with these groups to give them access to global fashion markets, from Made by VOZ in Chile, Mercado Global in Guatemala, and Fabrica Social in Mexico. These brands are fighting against the machine of fast fashion to revive lost traditions and to provide weaving communities with a steady income.
Whilst this may sound like a match made in heaven, there are often huge cultural and economical barriers that exist as meeting the modern demands of the fashion calendar is hugely challenging. Also, brands and their partner weavers have to contend with the ease of finding factory ‘knockoffs’ for a much lower price and the instance of cultural misappropriation is a constant threat – just take a look at designer Isabel Marant and the issues of plagiarism on her collection last year surrounding some of ‘her’ designs.
One of the most compelling aspects of investing in an item which has been hand woven is its beauty as a true original work of art, and equally how this item directly supports its makers and their art form.

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Aymara family - three generations of women
Aymara family – three generations of women, Photo: Ruslanita

Working with such talent and skill demands that weavers are empowered at every step of the process. Brands such as Made by VOZ include women in the design process, which gives their fabric a much more authentic feel – not only do their products speak of luxury, but transform and modernise cultural origins.
Strengthening the voices of marginalised communities gives people a platform to empower their own communities. Many of these brands not only support the workers in their employment, but also train the weavers in aspects such as financial management and community leadership so that members become champions of their own trade, art and future.
The benefits of buying an item which has been hand-woven is that it transcends fashion trends and can be part of an eco-friendly wardrobe. Fashion can be a vehicle for change and your clothes and accessories can reflect the rich handiwork of the Latin American visionary weavers.

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