Who Makes Your Clothes?
High up in the Peruvian Andes, women artisans weave on backstrap looms, taught to them by their mothers and their grandmothers before them. In Thailand, handwoven silk designers carry on traditions that have been passed down for generations.
Natural dyes, sustainable materials, and ancient techniques are just part of the fashion revolution that global artisans and eco-conscious consumers are waging together.
Five years ago today, a fire tore through the Rana Plaza garment factories in Bangladesh, killing 1,134 people. These lives, mostly young women, represent an entire labor force of nameless, faceless workers who manufacture clothing for the world’s largest fashion brands. We wear the clothes they make without even knowing who they are.
On the anniversary of the Rana Plaza fire, we join all those who are working to change the dynamics of the fashion industry. It begins with a simple question: who made my clothes? In honor of this important revolution, we spotlight a group of backstrap weavers who are transforming the relationship, not only between maker and wearer but also between community elders and youth.
The Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco, a nonprofit that works with ten weaving communities across the region, was established with the goal of rediscovering ancestral techniques, the art of natural dyes, and nearly-forgotten textile designs. On Saturdays, young people in the community gather together with their elders to learn the ancient art of weaving.
Founder and director, Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez, who is also a weaver herself, started this ambitious project because she realized that the traditional styles and weaving skills of her culture were beginning to disappear. Cheaper products, chemical dyes, and long chains of middlemen had begun to erode that important connection between the older generations—with their stores of hands-on knowledge—and the younger generation.
Her intention was to help save a sacred textile tradition and through it, a sense of pride in the Indigenous culture. Today, Nilda says: “We feel proud to be who we are, proud of our history, and we appreciate it as it deserves. We want to share our art with the world and always motivate our younger artisans.”