7 WOMEN + FAIR WAGES + EDUCATION = HUAYWASI
In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we are celebrating the progress Huaywasi has made by sharing our complete timeline and history with you.
Huaywasi formed as a branch of the Women’s Empowerment Program at the Light and Leadership Initiative, a 501(c)3 nonprofit in Huaycán, Peru.
The following information was collected by an interview with Lara DeVries, the founder of the Light and Leadership Initiative, the parent organization to what would later become Huaywasi: Handmade in Peru. Various other contributors include past and present Huaywasi Program Directors. All quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from Lara.
Keep reading to see how far this group of women has come, how we have grown, and what our goals are for the future.
2007-2009: The Idea
Originally from Tinley Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, Lara visited Peru for the first time in 2007 while she was finishing up college and volunteering in Lima. During her four month stay, she met a family who lived in Huaycan and invited her to visit for lunch.
After returning to the US, she continued to think about this community and had a strong inclination she would return. Lara remained in contact with that family and made a few subsequent visits to Huaycan and Lima between 2007 and 2009.
“During this time I explored the idea of starting a non-profit and then decided it was the direction we wanted to go in.”
Back in Chicago, she began fundraising to start the Light and Leadership Initiative. During a past visit she had held a forum and talked with quite a few community members to better understand what Huaycan could benefit from the most, and with the overwhelming response being education, she decided to move to Peru permanently and set up shop.
She connected with some of the first Light and Leadership employees to help her along the way, and who are consequently still with the organization today, ten years later.
May/June 2009: The Formation
The English program at LLI officially launched for kids and women in two areas of Huaycán. Sports and arts classes followed shortly afterwards.
“English was our first program that we offered to the kids because that was something I felt comfortable doing. I had taught English before, I had taken online courses to help prep for that, I had also tutored extensively, so I felt comfortable to launch that. From there we just built up our kids program.”
2010/2011: The Women’s Program
As the kid’s program begun to grow, a women’s empowerment program started in Huaycan’s Zone Z and Zone D. Lara and other volunteers got to know many of the artisans through free classes and workshops, including some that focused on creating crafts.
In one knitting workshop, the artisans approached Lara and other LLI team members to share that they were not necessarily looking to learn to knit, but rather develop a market to sell products they already had experience making. These products ranged from knitwear to crochet to hand woven pieces.
A group of artisan women naturally formed and they partnered with LLI to begin selling their pieces. LLI would purchase them directly from the artisans to sell at fundraisers for LLI in the U.S. The idea was to make this a profitable market where these women could make a living off their handmade pieces, allowing them to support themselves through their craft and their art.
“Naturally, this spilled over into people telling us, ‘Hey, I know of this craft fair, why don’t you guys sell there? Hey I know of this fair trade business why don’t you guys sell there?’”
2012 - 2015: The Development
As the years went by, the artisanal products continued to sell well at LLI fundraisers, which prompted people to the team more about craft fairs or fair trade businesses that LLI could participate in using these women’s products, in order for them to sell more things to LLI.
“Huaywasi was something that organically formed from the women’s program. LLI didn’t start the women’s program looking to incorporate artisans or incorporate fair trade policies - so that was something that was an unintended consequence/impact, but a very positive one that resulted from honest communication we had built with the women.”
This increased brand awareness eventually allowed the LLI team and artisans to launch the concept of a fair trade brand which is now Huaywasi: Handmade in Peru.
In the beginning years we were working from order to order, without design concepts and cohesive collections. We would dream up a concept of a product and approach the artisan to make it, or we would buy products that the artisans were already making.
For example, Daria’s woven cosmetic bag is her own design that she was already producing, and we are still selling this original bag at Huaywasi today. We believed (and still believe) in the idea that the artisans and their products would resonate to an American market, and we were determined to translate that success into fair financial gains for the women.
“Let’s get money into these artisans hands and let’s do our best to be able to sell these products because we believe that these women are talented and we also believe that there is a market for this.”
We slowly began to build more organization, making our collections cohesive and visiting the artisans to collaborate and share ideas. We now had regular artisan meetings to give updates and form design concepts.
Carina Martin, who was the Women’s Empowerment Program Manager from 2014-2016, was an integral part of standardizing operations, adding other product lines such as ceramics, and also brainstorming our name!
“I came up with the name Huaywasi in late 2014. After trying to brainstorm several options (we wanted something unique when Googled, but still reflective of our program), the team all agreed and liked Huaywasi best! A combination of 'Huay' for Huaycan and the Quechua word 'wasi' meaning home.”
With these enhanced operations along with our resolute passion came the desire to become a business member of Chicago Fair Trade in 2016.
“During this process of becoming Chicago Fair Trade, we were also receiving feedback from international LLI volunteers and supporters. Their ideas, such as starting an Etsy shop, and support, such as purchasing our pieces, was the feedback and pressure we needed to know people really were interested in what we’re doing.”
2016 - 2018: The Organization
In 2016, Shelby O’Brien joined the team as the Women’s Program Manager, but she took an interest specifically in the Huaywasi artisans, collaborating with them and believing in them and the brand in order to take the program a step further.
“Huaywasi has always been about the artisans. They are the heart, talent, and inspiration behind the project. Watching the artisans learn and grow together was a really special experience for me as Program Manager. All the little steps - trying out new products, making errors, learning what sells and what doesn't, incorporating new materials and techniques - have really added up to big transformations in the project. When I look back 4 or 5 years ago and see the progress that the artisans have made in both their artistic trades and entrepreneurial knowledge, it's really pretty incredible. I'm consistently amazed by the Huaywasi artisans' talents, and I look forward to seeing what they do next”
Shelby and Lara discussed distribution channels and branding from a more developed business perspective, with the result being Huaywasi.com launching in August 2016. Our logo was generously designed by a remote volunteer graphic designer who truly understood the Huaywasi vision. It’s particularly meaningful for the brand because it’s based off the silhouette of one our artisan partners, Nelida.
“Since 2016 we have been going ever since. Like any project, or any organization, or any company really, there’s a fair share of growing pains.These growing pains have taught us a lot and have made this process so rewarding.”
2019 and beyond: The 5-Year Vision
“We believe in the artisans, their skill level, and the products their producing. All of these things make this process worthwhile and give us confidence in the future. There’s a strong future for what we can achieve with the products and what it could do for the rest of the organization - specifically the women’s empowerment program.”
Moving forward this year, we have many ambitious and exciting goals for both our products and artisans. Starting with our Spring/Summer 2019 collection, one of our most exciting changes is the beginning of our one-of-a-kind upcycled pieces. Any past samples that have unfortunately not been able to be put into production, we try to re-process to create something new along with the help of the artisans’ creative skills. Becoming more sustainable, environmentally and economically, is important to us.
In the future, we would love to hire more full time, Peruvian staff for Huaywasi and LLI as we continue to grow. But as of 2019, we’re thrilled to announce our second artisan pay raise since Huaywasi was founded! We want to ensure that artisans are receiving enough economic support to where they feel comfortable and confident enough in their financial progress to support their families and other endeavors/goals in their personal lives.
“I want the artisans to think of Huaywasi not just as a job, but an opportunity to pursue whatever goals they have in their professional and personal lives. If there is a way to make resources available to them (new skills, financial stability, entrepreneurship opportunities, etc.) to achieve something they otherwise thought wasn’t possible, then I think Huaywasi has accomplished an incredible goal. Huaywasi is and always has been rooted in a desire for women to pursue their dreams and learn from one another--whether an artisan, intern, designer, or manager--and this constant symbiotic relationship I think will continue to drive its success.”
-Jill, current Huaywasi Program Manager
Our long-term goal for Huaywasi is to make LLI a more sustainable organization in terms of funding. In Huaywasi’s 5 year plan, the profits from the artisan’s products will filter back into the Women’s Program.
We want to see the project grow because we know there are a lot of positive things that will come with that, but there are still some logistical challenges we need to work through in terms of where the artisans want to go in the future.
We’ve had discussions on if we do grow, do any of them want to move into management, or extend their role, for example, to complete orders and lead operations, or start involving more women in supporting roles. These are ongoing discussions that we’re having with the artisans that continue to keep Huaywasi an open and inviting environment to learn. Growing and scaling a business is something we’re taking one day at a time and we want to ensure it’s done with the right intent for the artisans and brand.
“The toughest thing to convey about Huaywasi is that each artisan does have a background and does have a story and we all know them personally; this isn’t just another company that is shipping things out from a factory or anything like that. We’re very much a close knit and small scale project and there’s a lot of cool things to come from that.”
So as of now, we’re excited to show you what we’ve been working on for our Spring/Summer 2019 collection and we hope you continue to follow us on and offline. This year we’re working hard to cement our local Chicagoland presence, starting with Huaywasi being represented by Lara at monthly fair trade fairs/events as of April. Keep an eye out for us! :)
A final note from from Lara:
“It’s been amazing to see not only this project grow, but all of us women evolve into better versions of ourselves, myself included. Building this type of community among us has been something I have cherished. I now view community as something so powerful for women anywhere. I’m grateful to have the chance to work with such talented and inspiring women— how cool is my job?!?”
How you can get involved to make these Huaywasi goals a reality?
Come intern with us! We love volunteers to come to Peru, but we also have remote opportunities. Join us for design, photography and business development opportunities!
- Support our artisans by purchasing their pieces from our website
- Become a volunteer in Chicago and help sell our products at fairs
- Follow us on Instagram and Facebook
Writers & Contributors: Sarah Sparkman & Jill Schneider