Story and photos by Campbell Plowden, Executive Director, Amazon Ecology
About 14 years ago, a few artisans from the Ampiyacu showed us a simple draw-string bag made with chambira palm fiber that someone could use to tuck away produce. It was a good concept, but we didn’t sell many because the designs and quality needed a lot of improvement.
A few years ago, we began a conversation with a fellow Fair Trade Federation member who works in Peru about working with our artisan partners in the Amazon to make an attractive chambira bag that could be used at market or hanging other items. It was a new experience to try and connect people with professional design experience with our partners who had good weaving skills and access to a different material.
Not surprisingly, one challenge became trying to foster accurate communication about the details of the design and expectations of quality with the goal of making a product with prices that satisfied the artisans, the buyer and us. Unfortunately our initial attempts to land on this sweet spot did not succeed.
After the pandemic receded in Loreto, we went back to the drawing board on this product with some artisans from Puca Urquillo. Last October, we discussed a few ideas for loose weave bags, and three groups agreed to make prototypes.
So after staying up most of the night at the Chicha de Pijuayo festival in Brillo Nuevo, I headed back down river on Sunday morning.
That afternoon I met with two Bora artisan groups and one Huitoto group in Puca Urquillo. It was great to see that a few samples really hit the mark, and I placed an order for one design with all three. With luck we will have our first batch of chambira market bags ready for sale by mid-summer.
A few artisans had also made samples of new earrings and coasters, but transforming designs that worked well on 8 inch diameter placemats to crafts that were only a few inches across remains a work in progress.
I had a quiet dinner with Brito in Pebas and headed back to Iquitos that night on the noisy pongero. This trip to Peru was almost done.
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