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The Huarmi, Ecuador

The Huarmi, Ecuador

Finding the Huarmi came while I was exploring northern Ecuador and getting under the skin of the traditional artisanal culture.

We arrive in Quito, the capital of Ecuador and start the search by heading to local Artisanal stores and markets. The array of textiles is very impressive ranging from Alpaca to Silk and cotton. Being the capital city and one of the main tourist hubs a lot of the designs are ready for this type of consumer. Making friends with some of the shop assistants it becomes clear that the more traditional designs all come from Otavalo where you can find one of the biggest markets in Latin America.



It’s an early start, waking up at 6 am we begin our journey to the market around three and a half hours North East of Quito. Its an hour long bus ride to the El Labrador Bus Station and then a further hour to the Northern Terminal. This is a typical South American terminal with plenty of hustle and bustle and buses going in all directions, its an hour long queue for tickets and then a two hour ride into Otavalo.

The Otavalo Market is what makes this town famous, it’s undoubtedly one of the most important and spectacular markets in all of Latin America. Covering everything from animals, vegetables and meats, to the core of the market, textiles. It’s a vast market and by far the largest I have ever visited. In the four hours we spent here we covered maybe two thirds, I can't underestimate its size!



Over time the market has become more popular with tourists looking for bargains and trying to find traditional presents to take home. This has led to a dramatic change in the design and mass commercialisation driving down not only the price of products but also the quality.

Though the designs are stunning, the prices are so low that the amount passed onto the artisans is simply not enough to support their families and keep the traditions alive. We need to dive deeper and get to the artisans themselves.

Getting lunch we talk with the owner about the local community of the Huarmi who produce beautifully woven textiles and embroidery. We are given the phone number of a family friend and we are in luck, they are in their workshop today and invite us over to see their processes and learn more about their traditions.

 


We travel a further 45 minutes in a taxi and arrive at Casa Matico where we are warmly welcomed into the house and workshop of Matilda. Casa Matico is a family affair with six women from the family working in the project. They purposely do not sell in the Otavalo market they feel the quality is too low and there is fierce competition driving down the prices with the designs being stolen leading to everything looking the same in the market depending on what’s popular at the time rather than tradition.

At first, we hear the history of the Huarmi community and where the designs come from.



Originally the art was brought over by the Spanish and taught to the local communities who at the time were enslaved on the farms. They were so highly skilled that the farm owners started giving the artisans land in exchange for their work. Over time the art of the weaving and embroidery changed and the designs produced were dominated by the indigenous traditions and the environment around them. The artisanal skills have since been passed down from generation to generation.

When it comes to design Matilda draws everything out by hand, all her designs come from memory with inspiration coming from her life, she talks to us about the importance of the environment around the community including the forests and land used for farming. Many of her designs come from the beautiful flowers and landscape or storytelling.

 




After we are given a tour of the workshop and taken through the processes of making the products. The raw materials are all brought from local producers and then spun into the yarn. Each set of yarn is then naturally dyed using local plants and berries, after which the wool is ready to be weaved. Depending on the complexity of the design it can take anywhere from one to two days to produce a scarf when the material is spun and dyed.

Here at Casa Matico their whole aim is to keep the traditions alive and teach others about the culture and traditions, not just by selling products but through workshops for both local women and tourists and also cookery classes.


  




Everything they produce is of a quality far above what we have seen in the market and some of the best we have ever seen. The traditional designs created by Matilda shine through in everything that is produced.


This is just what we love to be involved in, all of the money goes to the family directly so they can grow their workshop and work with more of the community.

Following a highly successful initial meeting we put together our first collection, we leave excited about what the future holds and the potential to support this community by selling more products through TMAC in the future.


Here are some of the products from the first incredible collection.

 

 

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