In a small, impoverished community called Choquecancha, 13 women are weaving textiles to earn an income, reinvest in their families, and share a traditional art and skill that has been part of the Sacred Valley culture in Peru for centuries.
This community is 12,000 feet above sea level and two hours away from the nearest town by bus. One such bus ride was taken by Tina Novero, a scholar from San Francisco who came to the Peruvian high Andes to ask, “What does empowerment mean for women in this region?”
After spending months in the Sacred (Lares) Valley over several trips, Novero learned that the women in this remote village, like women and people everywhere, have a range of dreams. Conversation after conversation also revealed that these women really valued being able to take care of their families and build a better future for their children. 75 percent of the children in this region are malnourished.
These particular women, ranging in ages from 24 to 64, are weaving textiles to make laptop cases, through the company INKAcase, which allows women to reach the market of laptop and iPad owners in the U.S., large enough to generate an income for themselves.
Novero developed the business plan for these laptop cases, and works with the Andean Alliance for Sustainable Development to implement the program and bring these women’s skills to Western markets. These 13 women in Choquecancha make up the first pilot weaving group. The Alliance trains the weavers and also thinks broadly about how to give indigenous communities freedom to think about taking care of their children—the biggest concern Novero observed.
Earning an income can mean a whole lot more than money to meet basic needs. An income means the power to assert yourself in a community, decision-making power in a household, and the breathing room to step back and think about how to best help the people you love.
Similarly, weaving a textile has meaning beyond earning an income. The textiles carry stories and records in themselves. Indigenous Peruvians speak Quechua, which has no written counterpart. For hundreds of years, the textiles have passed down the history of the high Andes between generations.
In support of this culture of textiles, INKAcases are made entirely from materials local to the Lares Valley. You might even call them “hyper-local”—the colors of the cases made in Choquecancha are different from anywhere else because they are made from natural plant dyes that change depending on the precise elevation of the plants.
In some ways, INKAcases are designed for two very different goals: preservation of the local traditions that have colored the valley for generations, and change of the circumstances that have sustained gender inequality and impoverished lifestyles.
They are available on Designed Good through October 29.