Insights into the traditional textile market of Peru
Lourdes Martinez is a 2016-2017 Net Impact Fellow and a student at Parsons School of Design. She is a part of the Impact Design cohort and through her project, Lourdes plans to promote sustainability within the Parson’s community using the Design Thinking methodology as a tool. Read on learn more about Lourdes' trip to Cusco, Peru to understand the system dynamics of local businesses - how goods flow and the social impacts associated with them.
On the last weeks of 2016 I had the amazing opportunity of going back to my home country in order to do a research about the Traditional Peruvian Textile Market. My focus was on the practices which were involved with tourist consumption and what better place to go than Cusco, the Andean area where every tourist who visits Machu Picchu, one of the world’s seven wonders, goes to.
During the days I was in Cusco I had the chance to have classes and learn how to weave using antique techniques. Also, I visited the main artisanal markets, design stores and textile museums in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. From observation, immersive experiences, interviews and shadowing I discovered the following characteristics of Peru’s Traditional Textiles Market.
The Young Weavers
Traditional Textiles are made by weavers who learn the ancient techniques from the members of their families. This is a tradition that is passed from generation to generation. As the weaving process reflects not only productivity but also culture I decided I had to try it myself. During the days I was involved in the weaving classes I thought I was going to learn from a traditional woman. However, my teacher was a friendly young woman who was a mother, wore jeans and listened to pop music or reggaeton latest hits. She was very kind and loved to weave and told me many young people stopped weaving because they use their time to study in universities or work as these activities can give them a higher income. As a result, in the different communities less people are weaving and if this continues the traditional methods and all of what they represent will be lost.
The Traditional Value
Going through the artisanal markets I realized that many of the products offered both in Cusco City and in the Sacred Valley are very similar. The few products which are different are much more expensive. What’s happening around that is that each handmade textile can take days, weeks or even months to make. This increases the value and also the price of the product. In this context industrial products which have the peruvian look and feel have appeared, in bigger quantities and at lower prices. Then, the traditional products made by artisans have a competition which may not have the same value but has cheaper prices which become attractive to many customers, making the traditional artisans struggle.
Cusco is a magnificent place. You can breathe the creative vibe wherever you go. Traditional weavers are full of creativity, from the way they make the colors from organic matters, to the way they design their products and their patterns. However, they lack a business know-how and that is another barrier they find when they want to promote their products and keep weaving. One of the best choices for them is to sell their products to a third party who pays them less than 50% of their final retail price and this is called fair trade.
It’s clear to me that Peru’s Traditional Textiles have such a great cultural value that they we shouldn’t lose them. They are part of our identities. However, for this to happen the traditional weavers need help in their business know-how and marketing skills. They need advice about how to make their business model sustainable, how to charge according to the time invested in each product and how to contact interested people who are willing to buy their crafts.
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