13,000 feet above sea level, groundbreaking change is happening in Bolivia. Alpaca Artwear has partnered with Bolivian women artisans in the high Andes so they can use their loom weaving skills to earn a fair wage.
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Sometimes the places you go are just the beginning of a long adventure.
Kathy fell in love with South America when she joined the Peace Corps and went to Andean Colombia 30 years ago. Over the course of her travels on the continent, she discovered what set the culture of the Andes apart: their incredible hospitality, their warmth and compassion, and their general sense of what’s important in day-to-day living.
Kathy felt herself missing the Andes long after she finished her two-year Peace Corps commitment. In 2007, she decided to go on a textile tour with the hope of finding artisans to partner with in an enterprise. She headed south and wound up in Bolivia, where the capital La Paz lies 13,000 feet above sea level.
And sometimes the people you meet are the beginning of a meaningful adventure: While in Bolivia, Kathy stayed at a hotel where Eduardo, the manager, and his wife Vanya were feeding three families out of the back of the hotel kitchen.
But Eduardo and Vanya wanted to give more than rations to more than three families. They decided to build a full-scale enterprise and brought together 170 families to weave textiles and make products for a bigger market. Eduardo and Vanya completed all of the paperwork to earn World Fair Trade Certification for the artisan women, and they also calculated what would be a fair wage: $173/month, which is almost twice the minimum wage in Bolivia. “They are real social entrepreneurs,” Kathy said.
In 2008, Kathy told Eduardo and Vanya that she would love to import the artisans’ work, and Alpaca Artwear is the result of that fair trade partnership. The Bolivian artisans have the chance to develop their weaving skills, make products that connect to larger markets, and reinvest in their families and communities.
As they are making their products, they use 100% alpaca wool – a completely renewable resource – along with eco-friendly dyes and low-impact hand looms.
Kathy also sees the big picture: how the opportunity to weave textiles increases gender equality in Bolivia. And with that picture, there is also a larger truth about what inspires her – when people ask Kathy if she has met the artisans, she tells them a whole story about life in the Andes. “I lived there, and it is simpler. People appreciate every day.”