It was a love of alpaca that took the French fashion designer Thibault Van Der Straete to Peru. In the early 1990s, he scoured the markets for blankets and vintage ponchos, gradually building mutual trust with local vendors in Lima and Cuzco. By 2008 he had moved permanently to Lima where he runs his company today. His alpaca collections include machine-knitted sweaters, hand-woven blankets and vintage ponchos that he artfully transforms into home decoration.
‘Traditional craftsmanship in Peru is slowly disappearing. It’s not profitable enough so the young generations have turned to the gold mining industry,’ he sadly admits. However his early passion for hand-spun and hand-woven alpaca remains intact. Deeply committed to preserving ancient crafts and maintaining social cohesion, he’s about to purchase a house in the Sierra to set up a sustainable weaving community – a place where young people could stay for several months, make a living, learn hand skills from their elders and perpetuate Peruvian textile crafts. ‘There are very few spinners left, and hand-spun alpaca yarn has become rare.’
When the Civil War erupted in the early 1980s, the people of the Sierra fled their villages and resettled in Lima. Their children cannot speak Quechua but they speak English fluently and don’t care much about traditional textiles. ‘I’ve been working with the same based Serranos woman and her extended family for the past 25 years. They manufacture my sweater collections; 12,000 pieces a year, and help me maintain the production of hand-woven blankets in the Peruvian Mountains.’ The Quechua people spin and weave during the rainy season and work in the fields from April to September. Typically, a blanket requires seven to ten days of hand-spinning and is then woven by hand in three days…
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