Addressing domestic violence through handmade business
It was in the summer of 2008, while I was traveling throughout South America, when my business, “annie O”, began. After many long, bumpy bus rides, I met a women’s cooperative while browsing a colorful market in a small town in Central Peru. A beautiful embroidered table piece caught my eye, and conversation began with the shop owner. In short order, she had hired me a taxi to the cooperative where these beautiful textiles were made, which was founded by her three daughters.
It was a thrill to see such beautiful work being made by women who truly need support and financial help. The cooperative I had been guided to supports women who are suffering from domestic violence. The women and the energy of the workshop were genuinely welcoming. I was inspired to see the vital role this coop was carrying out in the lives of these women. They produce quality hand crafted goods to create income generation – and at the same time a strong sense of community and empowerment. They firmly believe in preserving traditional weaving techniques, which have been passed down for generations.
As an artist and photographer, I find the textiles and embroidery throughout Central Peru to be deeply inspiring. It’s fascinating to see how the textiles vary from village to village, and to watch the women walking the streets or sitting with a spindle and wool in hand.
Peruvian textiles are collages of form, design, composition, and color. The imagery is symbolic of dreams, imagination, traditions, ceremonies, meditations, and more. Every step of textile making is an art, from the hand-spinning of the yarn to the dyeing process. Andean people live in harmony with nature, therefore their designs reflect this nature. You often see interwoven in to a single piece imagery of stars, rain, eyes, animals, and the sun. Every textile is unique to its maker. They are small pieces of history.
I am not a designer by trade, but have the ability to create more marketable products when looking at the resources in hand. It’s an organic process, one that takes a good eye and appreciation for high quality craftsmanship. The market is saturated with ready-made products, so I find it takes time and patience to create unique products. It’s a collaborative process and I find I need to be in Peru for product development to take place. I don’t want to just produce more products, but want them to tell a story to the customers and build a future for the makers.
My current Peruvian collection consists of hand woven belts, handbags and shawls. The embroidered belts are seen throughout the Central Highlands, but I have worked with them to create a modern twist, using hand carved horn for the buckles and subtly transforming color and design choices. My line of clutches and handbags were also inspired by traditional embroidery, which captures imagery of flowers and birds, with so much love and detail. All woven products are made with sheep’s wool, which is hand dyed, spun, and woven on a loom. Once the base is woven, the women embroidered on top. The weaving of the fabric takes a few hours and then the embroidery takes another afternoon if done in one sitting.
Despite the struggles these women face in their daily life, they continue to persevere and create beautiful weavings with grace, patience and character. They weave with a bright palette of reds, pinks, yellows, greens, and blues, bringing forth a sense of lightness and hope.
The palette rises above the harsh conditions in which the women live. Most of them live in remote villages with no water or electricity. The roads are bleak and dusty, but the churches and doorways are vibrant. Colors reveal this rich, artistic country and the women’s resilience and determination to create a better life.
The women-run cooperative I work with emerged in the 80’s during the unfortunate rising of the Shining Path Movement, initiated by the Maoist Communist Party. The effects of this movement have been economically, socially, and politically devastating. “The goal” was to overthrow the democratic government, through extreme violence, causing thousands of deaths and prolonged calamity throughout the country. During this time, Peru was in complete turmoil, which brought rise to domestic violence, which continues to be a chronic problem to this day.
As a response to the increase of domestic abuse and deep concern for the livelihood of these women, these three sisters decided to turned a portion of their father’s leather factory into a safe haven and weaving cooperative, supporting over 90 women. I am so grateful for their organization and sincerity.
Once a week, the women gather at the workshop for various training, guidance, and moral support. All other days, the women work from home and weave in between their domestic duties. They are given the yarn up front and paid per piece. Weaving sustains these women’s livelihood, and helps them support their families. Average families here have four children.
Each visit to Peru is rejuvenating as I get a chance to explore the mountain villages and immerse myself in the culture. As an artist, it is sometimes a struggle to push through the mundane tasks of running a business, but these women and my relationship with them keep me going. I believe in the powerful impact of a socially responsible business – in the positive potential of connecting them to the market. The constant demand for their work builds their confidence, inner happiness, and increases their quality of life. I strive to form my business around a “win win” scenario, which feeds all the souls involved in it, and creates a brighter future for my Peruvian artisan-partners and their children.
Annie O. Waterman found a way to merge her love for color, textiles, and design with her business, annie o. She has worked on a freelance basis with artisan groups throughout Nepal, Peru, Bolivia, and Honduras. She graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in Photography and Ethnic Studies. See www.annieoboutique.com for more about Annie Waterman.