Threads of Peru is a non-profit organization that connects the world to handmade textiles of Peru, helping to preserve ancient craft techniques and empower indigenous artisans.
Threads of Peru started as Project Peru, which was created by a class of Interdisciplinary Design students at NSCAD University in Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada. The class was taught by Adam Foster Collins, who wanted students to see that Design is a social process, whose greatest strength lies in drawing out the collective strengths of people working collaboratively across boundaries of culture and discipline.
Design is not a style or a thing, it is the social process of coming to agreement on a course of action. So the class started with a question: Can we reach out to the world, find a region of the world where people could use our help, and then travel there to use our design skills and take part? Students gasped and exchanged looks in disbelief. What? All in one class? All on our own? How would we raise money? The university had no structure to support such a project. It seemed impossible… so we got to work.
Class members made presentations on many areas of the world. Haiti, Sierra Lion, Omar, Bolivia, and more were considered. But when student, Mike Piotrowski made a presentation on the indigenous people of Peru and their traditional weaving the class was captivated. How could people who make such beautiful clothing and weaving still struggle to educate their children? How could they not afford a balanced diet for their families? And why would they be abandoning their traditions and moving to impoverished overpopulated urban areas? These questions led us to reach out to Peru.
The class sent messages to many organizations with a request to get involved and offering our design skills. An answer came back from Alternative Tour Operator, Ariana Svenson at APUS Peru in Cusco. She wasn’t sure what a group of designers might do, for like many people, she saw designers as makers of stylish objects, or decorators. But she was willing to start a conversation.
That conversation became a collaboration. The students designed a campaign, crafted events, had yard sales and even painted houses to raise money for the project. Many people scoffed at the idea, but in the Summer of 2008 eleven people from the class of twenty travelled to Peru on a mission to exchange experiences and to gather information for the design of an ecommerce website connecting weavers to an online market.
Ariana and APUS Peru planned a research adventure for the group, taking us to see the factory city of Juliaca, and the long-standing weaving communities at Taquile and Amantani – the islands of Lake Titicaca. From there, we visited the floating islands of Uros, then on to Puno, Cusco, Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, and several weaving communities in the region, including Chinchero and Chahuaytire – all aimed at helping the group to gain a rapid understanding of the place of weaving and history in Peruvian culture. The exploration of history culminated in an exciting visit to the famed retreat at Machu Picchu, where the group experienced the breath-taking stone constructions of the Incas at the mountaintop cloud city.
Lastly, and most importantly, we reached our main destinations in the remote communities of Rumira Sondormayo, Chaullacocha and Chupani in the Patacancha Valley of the Cusco region. A three hour walk from the end of the nearest road, the we found ourselves in a tiny mud-brick building as snow fell on the mountains. Inside this humble shelter, the weavers demonstrated their techniques as APUS Peru translated questions and answers in English, Spanish, and Quechua. The simple buildings, surrounded by mountain peaks and drifting herds, put the whole experience in perspective. All over Peru, the weaving was as present as the Incan stone. In many ways, it was as if weaving was Peruvian culture itself; past and present; woven into one cloth.
Having benefited greatly from this well-orchestrated tour, we gathered our research and headed back to Canada to begin building Threads of Peru.