"We are in an area where men are supposed to work and women to stay at home and look after their children, so when we first started Orkocraft it was difficult to get them to join us."
Orkocraft Artisan Association was founded in March of 2009 by enthusiastic women from different communities in the Orcopampa district of the Castilla province of the Arequipa department at 3800 meters above sea level. Orcopampa is a mining community and Orkocraft was created as an economic alternative to mining with a view of being self-sustainable.
Weaving is an ancestral craft in Orcopampa and it has usually been practiced by women who are also responsible for planting and looking after farm animals. The women of Orkocraft are to be admired for they have a unique gift for balancing motherhood, weave and being leaders in their communities.
The women of Orkocraft share something in common: they were taught to knit by their mothers and grandmothers with love and care, and they used to work together, as a family. They decided to continue to knit because they do not want this art form to disappear, and so they've taken more training on designing.
"We are in an area where men are supposed to work and women to stay at home and look after their children, so when we first started Orkocraft it was difficult to get them to join us," recalls a spokesperson for the association. "We would often see women walking around the workshop to find out what it is that we do while trying not to be seen by their husbands. With time they lost their fear when the desire to learn became stronger and they rebelled (as they say) and joined us. They enjoy growing professionally and contribute to their families’ finances.
"That was the biggest challenge we faced: being able to convince women from the different communities and in turn, that they could convince their families they had been offered an opportunity to work and earn an income doing something with their hands, something they are very skilled at doing."
The women of Orkocraft share something else, they enjoy playing volleyball and soccer, so they organize different championships among their communities which they enjoy along with their families. They also go to gender issues workshops where they are free to talk and which are designed to foster self-esteem and develop leadership qualities.
Their efforts are bearing fruits and they are highly motivated, which encourages them to put their hearts into their knitting. Thanks to the training they have undergone their products are of a high quality. They specialize in alpaca apparel and accessories with innovative designs using traditional techniques. This empowers their sense of identity.
Through Orkocraft the women have an opportunity to share their art and history, especially since their products are made with passion and expertise.