In the Peruvian High Amazon, textiles are used in everyday life as ropes, belts, baby carriers and blankets, refreshingly non-gendered in terms of color choices. Spinning cotton and weaving to the Kichiwa-Lamista women, indigenous to this region, is a way of life that their mothers and grandmothers taught them. However, the tradition of ginning, spinning, tinting, and weaving cotton with local plants is slowly dying, a narrative similar to the communities of weavers across the globe. A rejuvenation and appreciation for this art form is much-needed to inspire the future generations, and to preserve this cultural heritage. Additionally, these hard-working women are seeking a just and sustainable way to support their livelihoods. From the environmentalist angle, due to deforestation and climate change, there is an urgent need to develop alternative income sources for these remote Amazonian communities.
Recognizing the amazing talent pool and to address the livelihood opportunities for the Kichiwa-Lamista community, Aanin Collective was started by two women with a common dream to improve lives of indigenous weavers, and to preserve and promote Peruvian Amazonian textile heritage. The inspiring story goes a little like this; Natalia Gonzales, a Peruvian anthropologist, who happened to be trained as a fashion designer befriended Kristi Denby, a Canadian development worker/ social entrepreneur through an NGO in Tarapoto Peru. They had both made deep friendships with a group of women in a Kichiwa-Lamista community in the Peruvian high Amazon, and admired their vibrant and intricate weaving designs.
Both the founders were really motivated to utilize their experiences working with indigenous communities in developing conservation projects, and to build a sustainable social enterprise. With many ideas running through their heads, they brainstormed together, and decided to launch a socially conscious fashion line that exclusively celebrated Peruvian Amazonian textile heritage, while distributing the benefits across their entire supply chain. To the founders, it was of utmost importance to push the boundaries of the traditional fashion industry, and place social and environmental responsibility at the heart of their organization.
In the last year, the founders have worked hard to build inclusive and long-lasting partnerships with Ashaninka and Cashinahua women based in Ucayali province, and with Kichwa women (and one male weaver) in San Martin. In addition, they have formed a strong bond with a family with a leather workshop in Lima. Months were spent in the workshop together developing and handcrafting their first round of samples to create one-of-a-kind designs that showcase the weavers ancestral techniques, wisdom and connection to the natural environment.
Beyond paying fair wages and ensuring ethical working conditions, Aanin Collective is working on developing various projects to benefit its partners and their communities. They offer training and workshops, business support, and assistance in officially registering the designs of the artisans as well as certifying their work in Peru. They have also collaborated with Project Pieta to have their recycled plastic and cotton logo bags to be produced by inmates in Lima.
Kristi the founder said that “each day we are trying to create a more sustainable supply chain, and trying to push the boundaries of traditional aid/development and the fashion world.” Aanin collective is in the early stages and the whole team, from the weavers to the leather artisans, is extremely excited about the potential and the opportunities that lie ahead for them.