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Indigenous artisan showcases woven textiles, Andean ancestry at Fashion Week

The event moved so quickly, I felt dizzy at times. As we showcased our garments, the culture of the original peoples of the Andean communities permeated the space. The dark red of our centerpiece – a poncho-style outer garment called a ruana – presented a color with sacred value to the Andean people. Small coca leaves could be seen, woven into the structure.

  • 10 months ago
  • May 5, 2023
5 min read
For six years Celeste Valero has led her family's work within the Andean weaver's community, making it all the way to Fashion Week. For six years Celeste Valero has led her family's work within the Andean weaver's community, making it all the way to Fashion Week. | Photo courtesy of Celeste Valero's team
INTERVIEW SUBJECT
Celeste Valero, 29 years old, is a textile artisan and a member of the Andean Weavers collective (“Tejedores Andinos Jujuy). She is a member of the Kolla indigenous community of Jujuy, Argentina. Her mission is to preserve, share and improve textile techniques handed down from her ancestors.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
In the Andes, textile manufacturing is an ancient tradition, born under the Inca civilization. In fact, the Incas integrated specializations of textiles into their educational systems. Many elements of the Andean religious system were embodied in the textiles. Today, the practice of weaving, among the high-Andean community members, is one of the most current cultural legacies throughout the Andes.

JUJUY, Argentina — As an artisan from the Kolla community in Jujuy, Argentina, I feel proud to represent my people. Alongside my family and fellow community members, we founded Tejedores Andinos, an Andean Weavers project. More than 570 craftsmen took part in our project, committed to our motto, “The soul of textiles is its weavers.” 

Through Tejedores Andinos, I preserve and revive ancestral weaving techniques. As a result, we gained international recognition at Argentina Fashion Week.

Read more stories from Argentina at Orato World Media 

Vibrant colors and textures intertwine through an ancestral process

For generations, my people employed textile techniques on various looms using natural fibers like llama and sheep wool. I discovered my passion for weaving early and dedicated myself to this craft by preserving traditional techniques. Just as my ancestors did before me, I hope to pass down the Andean textile art techniques to future generations.

Growing up in the picturesque town of Huacalera, located in the Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy, Argentina, my life intertwined with the art of weaving from the very start. My family’s weaving expertise remained diverse. We utilize looms, needles, dyes, embroidery, and more, garnering high demand for our pieces. 

Since 2016, we have dedicated ourselves to commercialization due to an increased demand for our product in the market. As I move around the workshop, I see the different pieces in progress, each one reflecting the passion and dedication of the artisan who created it. Surrounded by the vibrant colors and textures, the environment invigorates my senses and fills me with pride.

Sharing my love of weaving with others and passing on techniques handed down to me by my ancestors feels like a dream come true. Every piece we weave includes intricate designs and attention to detail. From the smooth finishes to the rough, rustic textures, the fabrics come to life. I stand at the forefront of the Qenqo brand.

The coca leaves woven into the rich red poncho brought culture to Fashion Week

In 2019, the Puro Diseño fair came to Jujuy in search of talent. One of the jurors, designer Benito Fernández, promoted our work. Together with other entrepreneurs in the area, we created the Sacred Ceremony Collection. It alludes to the offerings made by the indigenous people to Pachamama [Mother Earth] during the ceremony. In March, we presented the collection at Argentina Fashion.

During the show, I looked upon the work of other designers whom I deeply admire. Everything felt surreal. Standing a few feet away from so many talented professionals seemed unbelievable. The event moved so quickly, I felt dizzy at times. As we showcased our garments, the culture of the original peoples of the Andean communities permeated the space. The dark red of our centerpiece – a poncho-style outer garment called a ruana – presented a color with sacred value to the Andean people. Small coca leaves could be seen, woven into the structure.

I saw my role before me – balancing the world of fashion, consumerism, and greenwashing, with our rich ancestral history. Argentina Fashion Week opened many doors for us. It provided a platform to present our art, reveal our identity, and celebrate our history. Returning to artisan practice remains vital to our existence. Though the people who worked on the project may not all be related by blood, our passion unites us like one people.

Commissions and book features, but most importantly, a connection to community

When we first started making our pieces, we skipped the sketching process. Only in university did I learn the importance of it, but my method of sketching is to walk the path, see the shapes and colors of my environment, and then decide which technique suits it. Each day, I travel seven hours, visiting artisans in our group. I take part in and process a visual journey. It feels like drawing the roadway – like a romantic map curled up in my mind. The things around me bring constant inspiration.

My clothes remain a part of me, and it becomes difficult to separate myself from the pieces themselves, because they contain so much feeling. My Fashion Week experience proved both unique and unforgettable. Afterwards, people approached me to share their thoughts on our pieces. I felt moved by their words. Soon, new commissions rolled in accompanied by incredible proposals, including one to write about us in a book called Deep Latin America.

While we do remain challenged, at times, by economic difficulties, a market exists for the type of the conscious fashion we create. People seek products with a rich history attached; products that will endure. We make one-of-a-kind, timeless pieces. Our mission remains the same: to inspire people while guarding our strong bond with nature, our roots, and the community we live in.

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