Uqllu (pronounced ook-loo) comes from Incan mythology where the Goddess Uqllu was known for fertility and maternity, but also known for teaching the women of the Andes the art of spinning thread and creating striking and colorful textiles with intricate designs.
Inspired by the story behind the myth, Uqllu—a corporate socially responsible entity—was formed in 2011. The company was helped by the Pan American Silver Corp, a leader in the mining industry, that has a history of leading innovative programs that help improve the economic needs of the community and support financial independence long after mining operations are completed.
Uqllu is one of those programs where PAS donated funds to showcase Peruvian handcrafts through the production and marketing of a line of high-end clothing, accessories, jewelry and household décor. The company currently employs 50 women with another 50 on waitlist. Hiring more staff will depend on the success of future sales in North America.
Uqllu makes fashionable scarves made from alpaca for both its durability, versatility, and its silky, soft qualities that can be woven into knitted and woven textiles. Uqllu uses Alpaca Royale—the finest fleece on the market—as well as baby alpaca and alpaca silk, a blend of baby alpaca and silk. The designs are created by the company’s artistic director Giovanni Amenta, and they are woven on a manually operated loom. Each shawl takes between 6 to 24 hours, depending on the complexity of the design. Overall setup of the threads onto the loom can easily add another two to four hours. The general rule is that each shawl is made by one artisan to keep the fabric’s quality consistent.
In an email to HAND/EYE Online, Monica Morretto, Uqllu’s manager of corporate social reponsibilty, explained, “Uqllu is open to anybody in the communities who wants to participate and it is considered as the other big economy that will bring income to families beyond farming and mining activities, usual to the area. We want to bring the regions of Junin and Pasco to be renowned for their products all over the world. The artisans get paid for each product they produce.”
Expenses are divided two ways: one third for wages, and the bulk goes to fiber as well as transportation, tags, and branding costs “Per product an artisan can make in between $10 to $40. Ten dollars in that area can walk them through three days of food for a family of four. The ladies can make, working full time, between 20 to 30 shawls and they work the amount of hours they are able to so. If they have family responsibilities they can choose to work part time. Similar work done by other artisans in Peru is paid much less than what the ladies of UQLLU make. In other parts of Peru, for similar products, an artisan can make around $3 to $15 per piece,” said Morretto.
For the most part Uqllu’s designs have been admired by retailers, but the company has come across the issue of cost. Retailers hedge in purchasing items because of the expense of the products. “The hardest part is stores have difficulty understanding the price point of the pieces, because we made the decision to pay the artisans a real wage, which makes a difference in their lives. Quality is actually well-received, but, in general, society has a long way to understand that when you pay high-end that it’s also costly to produce, yet will have a high-quality piece.”
To attract more buyers, Uqllu is exhibiting for the first time at Artisan Resource from August 18-20. Artisan Resource is part of the NY NOW ® at the Jacob Javits Center and Pier 94. Artisan Resource centers on artisan enterprises worldwide as a source for designers and retailers who are looking for unique items, as well as partnerships to keep artisan craftsmanship, traditional methods, techniques and cultural heritage thriving. The section will also offer programming on such topics as importing basics and customs.
Says Morretto, “All the people attending are volunteering their time. We will have on display all the colors and beautiful designs that the artisans have produced, and we hope that we can share our story and open new business venues for all the people who work at Uqllu with the dream of creating more job opportunities in the communities and a real sustainable economy in the regions of Junin and Pasco in the Andes of Peru.”
For more information, please visit www.uqllu.com.