In 2003 while on an internship at the Julcani mine in the village of Hunacavelica, Peru, geologist Jose Alberto Vizquerra reached out to his mother Mercedes Benavides and asked if she could somehow help the ladies of the village find work. The mine was expected to close and Vizquerra hoped that with his mother’s ingenuity and connections that she would be able to help the villagers find a new line of employment.
With her son’s strident request, Benavides sent an anthropologist and designer who specialized in Andean weaving to Hunacavelica and discovered that all the women knew how to crochet, weave and knit. Soon after Wayra was launched.
With Benavides’ involvement and direction, the women crocheted and knitted Christmas ornaments for what later became the famous “Huancavelicano Christmas Tree,” which went on to win in 2005 the prestigious Padis Award for the best handcrafted design. It also turned out to be the season’s miracle as it employed over 500 people in the village.
Following that success, Benavides wanted to create something larger that would help the villagers. She developed a number of textile workshops in the surrounding mining communities, which employed more than 1,500 artisans. Among the objects produced by both the former miners and women were decorative home items like throws, pillows, bedspreads and garment using natural fibers from the Peruvian highlands such as vicuña, baby alpaca and alpaca, pima cotton, and merino wool.
Ines Vizquerra, general manager of Wayra, told HAND/EYE Online via email that in these workshops, there are teams of 30 to 35 men and women; the men primarily work the hand looms and industrial machines; while the women knit and crochet.
Enthusiasm for work runs rampant in the Wayra’s workshops as the employees learn about design and earn an income even during the initial training period. The company trains the women—many of whom already know the essentials of knitting and crocheting—but have no concept of design. In addition to learning how to use patterns and take instruction from designers, the men and women are also taught how to operate industrial machinery for more complicated designs.
And thanks to the training and work experience, there have been a number of success stories like Constantina from the neighboring Moquegua launched own handcrafts company that now employs 30 artisans.
Wayra has successfully attended a number of trade shows in Peru as well as the Atlanta Gift Show, which has opened new markets for the company. On January 27 through January 29, in New York City’s Pier 92, Wayra will be among other handcraft producers representing 18 countries that will exhibit at Artisan Resource, a division of the New York International Gift Show. The show serves as a venue for American importers, direct import retailers and wholesalers.
Wayra will have on exhibit a number of home decor products and garments for men, women and infants from their new collection that has beautifully preserved traditional techniques used in Andean textile work.
For more information about Wayra, please visit www.wayraperu.com.