Indigenous and sustainable textiles are reaching modern fashionistas.
If you’re reading this, you care about indigenous peoples and the planet. You might be a socially conscious consumer, or perhaps you’re hoping to launch your own company that connects local artisans with buyers. Either way, you already know that products made with traditional techniques rooted in your country’s culture are unique and surpass high street fashion in design and quality. Either way, you already know that products made with traditional techniques rooted in a country’s culture are unique and connect the consumer to time-tested and classic production methods not found in the modern fast fashion industry.
Something you may not have considered however, is that indigenous communities have long been trend-setters when it comes to work-life balance. Textile artisans worked from home long before COVID made it fashionable. Yet another reason to support them and hope Western employers follow suit!
We can all empathize with preferring not to travel long and far to the workplace and this is especially true for most textile workers, who often have to commute hours into large cities to then spend 10 or 12-hour-long days in soulless factories. Florezca Designs is an affordable sustainable clothing brand that works with women-led cooperatives in Chile who have long pioneered the “work-from-home model”.
Our weavers install traditional looms in their homes and schedule their weaving time with other responsibilities, which allows them to care for their lands and families while making products they love. At home, they stay in touch with the traditions that created their versatile products and set their own schedules, on their own terms.
Sadly, not all products claiming to be ethical fashion are created as cultural expressions of proud indigenous peoples nor do they boast work-life balance for producers. Many “ethical fashion brands” manufacture using third-parties without the community’s permission, or their prices are hiked without a fair share being delegated to the intellectual property owners—indigenous peoples.
How can you prevent corporations from stealing the profits of indigenous communities’ designs and artistic property?
Wouldn’t you prefer the “winnings” from affordable sustainable clothing to go to those who deserve credit for their style and techniques?
The way to ensure that creators are given credit in name and profit is by buying from companies that are recognized for their respectful collaboration. It’s not easy to spot which brands work directly with indigenous people to help them reach a larger audience, so you do have to do some research.
Someone Somewhere is a prime example. A Mexican-born sustainable clothing brand that works with local artisans to create unique pieces steeped in culture, Someone Somewhere targets young people with wanderlust. They create clothing and accessories that have multiple uses for travelers, and add hand-stitched details by indigenous communities in Mexico. Their mission is to not only promote artisans’ skills, but develop their communities long-term, so this is one brand that those of us with a social conscience should support.
Based on the same ethical motivations, at Florezca Designs we buy directly from the Aymar Sawuri cooperative in Chile, which cares for its own Alpaca herds, sources their own wool and weaves it into the unique and beautiful patterns you can find in our shop. We work directly with Yenny, Elisabeth and other cooperative members to choose traditional designs that the community values and wishes to share, and also design brand new pieces in collaboration with all the members.
Our artisans receive at least 75% of each item’s profits, so earn more than double the Chilean national minimum wage.
The best thing consumers can do to contribute to the global economy is to support sustainable clothing brands that work to bring indigenous peoples’ products to a greater audience while enriching the communities that own the design.
More than just a pretty fabric
Buying from indigenous peoples, or companies that represent them, is a profoundly eco-friendly consumer choice. Florezca and Someone Somewhere source clothing and accessories produced far from the fast fashion industry that’s polluting our water sources and littering landfills.
Indigenous communities work in environmentally-friendly ways, using natural plant-based dyes and sustainable materials such as Someone Somewhere’s upcoming Peruvian sourced pima cotton and Florezca’s alpaca wool from Chile. “We work with the natural colours of Alpaca wool, because chemical tints and dyes in the fast fashion industry are a top water contaminant,” says Anthea Darychuk, founder of Florezca Designs. “Our pieces are sustainable and versatile; we are pushing for global change by connecting women entrepreneurs with environmentally conscious shoppers.”
The people behind the product
The story of one of Someone Somewhere’s creators, Cristina Ruíz Cravioto, demonstrates how being able to sell her products to a wider audience has completely changed her life. Ruíz Cravioto has lived in Naupan, Mexico her whole life and has four children, two of whom are now adults, the other two are still of school age.
For Ruíz Craviota, Someone Somewhere’s collective of artisans has provided income that her family relies upon, especially when jobs are hard to come by in rural locations like Naupan.
While Someone Somewhere does have brick-and-mortar stores, the brand reaches even more consumers through an online shop. E-commerce has been a game-changer for indigenous communities and Florezca shares this in common with Someone Somewhere. The alpaca farmers and artisans that design, weave, and export Florezca’s products also reach an international audience with their products made with tradition and sustainable material.
Sussana Garcia and Yenny Choque of the Aymar Sawuri cooperative knew that the high quality of their products would be adored outside of their small community in northeastern Chile.
The two women, along with other cooperative members, have travelled to cities including Milan, New York, and Vancouver to communicate the benefits of their time-tested indigenous design to the ethical fashion industry. And people are listening. “We heard lots of people in New York tell us that our products were really well made. They said our scarves were better quality than what they normally see. Well, I knew that!” Garcia explains why: “We weave our scarves to last generations, so I’m excited to share that with people outside of our community all around the world.”
Working with Florezca to sell their products online has given the group access to new markets and brand new audiences to grow, evolve and scale.
How can companies impact communities with sustainable fashion?
Adelaida Correa, CPO of Someone Somewhere says an ethical clothing brand’s offering has to be logical and profitable to really make a difference. “We have to balance an affordable price point with hand-made artwork to be able to sell consistently and make a long-term impact on communities.”
Correa continues, “our brands don’t just want to work once with these communities, but rather develop them. They’re part of our family and feel very empowered as a result.”
“Working directly with indigenous women’s cooperatives means increasing the artisans’ exposure to much larger global markets,” expands Darychuk. Florezca values working closely with the weavers to determine which markets to focus on, who the target customer is, and how to communicate added-value.
“Having that direct communication channel with the producers makes a huge difference, says Darychuk. “They are telling their own stories and we are working together to get the products to new audiences.”
This article was written by Nadine Heir, Creative Content Professional and sustainable fashion fan.