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Designer Fashions and Fair Trade support the Shipibo Handcrafts of the Pisqui River, Perú

Many indigenous artisans seek broad access to international markets for their handcrafts, but have difficulty achieving stable, long-term avenues for income generation.  To address this challenge, the ECCo Andes/Amazon sustainability team has been working with artisans from Shipibo communities on the Pisqui River, in the buffer zone of the Cordillera Azul National Park in Northern Peru. The 11 Shipibo communities along the Pisqui River, with a total population of around 3,000, are active partners in the Park’s protection, alongside their representative federation, FECONACURPI.

From July 16 to 18, 2011 the ECCo team held a workshop in Contamana, an Amazonian town on the Ucayali River. At the workshop Pisqui women artisans worked with a group of Lima- and Los Angeles-based designers of high-end fashion products to develop a line of items (handbags, tablecloths, tees, and shawls) that the designers can sell to their clients.

The three Lima-based collaborators who presented at the workshop were –

  • April Borda who has been working as an agent for US and European designers and managing her own exporting company for more than 30 years;
  • Meche Correa, a well known Peruvian designer with two exclusive boutiques in Lima, who is also an exporter of Peruvian dress accessories for more than 15 years; and
  • Carmen Sota, manager of her own design facility named ‘Confecciones Sota’ for more than 35 years.

Also present was the well-known Los Angeles-based designer, Gregory Parkinson, who has been engaged in high-end fashion for more than 20 years, and who has been working with Peruvian artisans since 2004 showcasing Peruvian artistry to a global audience. He was selected last year for the Vogue Fashion Awards.

All the designers are interested in the vivid use of colors and designs manifest in Shipibo art.  These unusual and characteristic designs encode the cosmovision and unique cultural knowledge gained through millennia of living in this area of the Amazon headwaters.

The Field Museum, CIMA, and the designers all subscribe to the principles of Fair Trade, based on a just but competitive price for the artisans’ work. The workshop was intended to initiate a Fair Trade business arrangement that would introduce the intricate and highly symbolic Shipibo embroideries and paintings to the discerning and conscientious global consumer. 

During the two days of the workshop, the designers described and showcased new ways of incorporating Shipibo handiwork into high fashion accessories. The Shipibo artisans welcomed the possibilities of extending their range of products beyond the traditional shoulder bags and skirts that they currently sell to The Field Museum’s Store. All of the designers are committed to establishing a stable market that can endure for many years.

Photo: Janette Bulkan

During the workshop the 12 artisans worked on samples furnished by the designers so that the average time taken per sample could be estimated.  After a lively discussion, the artisans agreed on a price they felt was fair and that the designers said would make their products affordable. At the end, the designers were well satisfied with the quality of workmanship.

Photo: Janette Bulkan

While the budding relationship is still in its early days, the high level of enthusiasm and determination to stay the course displayed during the workshop was infectious.