PO’MA: A tale of hope from the Andes
From Puno, in the Peruvian Andes, via Paris, comes to us a story of solidarity between women and social and sustainable entrepreneurship, which has started in response to the Covid-19 crisis. Argelia Jimenez, founder and creative director of the brand PO'MA, tells us about this epic/great experience of hers.
During an unexpected business trip to Arequipa in 2016, while visiting the Peru Moda trade show, Argelia discovered the unique Puno spinning mill and the commitment of the NGO Heifer international. This encounter made her aware of the hidden face of the artisanal alpaca wool system: highly dependent on mass tourism and the sale of their fiber to middlemen (who themselves sell the "raw material" to the big brands).
Mrs. Cleida INCACUTIPA, former team leader of Heifer International in Puno, alerted Argelia of the dramatic situation of the Andean women following the Covid-19:
"Argelia, people are not dying only of COVID here; they are dying of boredom and sadness. There is no more tourism in the area, and that was their primary source of income. Nobody wants to buy their product anymore. Only the middlemen acquire their fiber, but at prices too low to survive! "
During this exchange, Argelia became aware that she could do something through her experience in fashion design and the European market.
THE SITUATION ON THE GROUND
In 2020, following an influential/damaging report by the renowned PETA, the fashion world abandoned alpaca wool from Peru. In this report, PETA denounces through writings and videos the poor treatment of the animals during their shearing by the most prominent private company of alpaca breeding in Peru: the Michell Group. However, after this report has been published/released, the big brands did not make any distinction. They boycotted the purchase of any Peruvian alpaca wool. They abandoned a significant number of small and large companies of the country, with a yet more respectful treatment of the animal cause.
The people of the Peruvian Andes, or Andean, and the alpacas have lived in harmony for over 3000 years. Their methods of breeding, shearing, and transformation of the fiber are respectful to animal welfare.
In the Andes, it is the women who take care of them. They are accompanied and trained by the NGO Innovar y Compartir to guarantee the good conditions of the animals. They were the first to be deprived of income after this scandal pointed out by PETA. The pandemic confirmed the fragility of their system, vulnerable to the vagaries of tourism and the sale of their fiber to intermediaries.
Confronted with this problem, they realized that the most sustainable solution for them and their community was to join their forces. In this way, they opened themselves to new alternatives to move forward with resilience.
This new reality of the market was affected by the double penalty of the lack of tourists due to Covid-19 and the boycott of the big brands due to the animal abuse scandal discovered by PETA; Argelia wished to propose a real, sustainable alternative for these women.
Argelia wanted to increase the value chain of the alpaca spinning industry while respecting the rhythm and lifestyle of her artisans. She established a team in Paris that would be in touch with the women in Peru. The newly formed French team quickly identified the challenges it would face - they needed to put themselves in the shoes of the Andean women to understand the importance of colors, symbols, gestures, and rituals in the creation of their products.
The second step was to create a method that values the know-how, culture, and heritage. Then transcribe all these values to develop practical products for the consumer to buy a fashion garment and receive a piece of Andean culture.
The final step was the creation of the TIMELESS collection: a line of knitwear & accessories. To face the pandemic and the risk of contamination, it was necessary to set up a workshop in the Paris region that used the same technical methods as in the workshop of Puno.
Today the team of PO'MA in Puno is made up of 80 Andean Aymara women. They work according to an associative model. Their talent and unique sensibility are to transmit the best of their ancestral knowledge through breeding alpacas, the classification, the valorization of their fiber, and the production of products in a circuit of solidarity and respect for the environment.
"They taught me to take my time, the importance of knowing oneself, through common passions: knitting and traditions." - Argelia
PO'MA mission is to be more than simply financial support for its women, but a guarantee of protection against the intermediaries and the lobbying of the alpaca fiber in Peru by guaranteeing:
- salary above the minimum monthly wage to the women who make our products.
- a health insurance system for their families.
Argelia hopes that PO'MA will be a bridge between the cultures and values of women around the world through its products:
Understand the origin - A garment is manufactured, its raw material collected, its design conceived in a specific context. Understanding the link between each of these steps and its human impact allows us to take better care of our products and keep them longer.
We leave the final word to Argelia:
"The success of this project is key to giving TIME to Andean women: a TIME of sharing, a TIME of collaboration, a TIME of joy, a TIME with their roots, a TIME of love. This TIME is precious, priceless, a great gift for all the women of the world."
To support and stay informed about PO'MA and their project, you can connect with their different accounts and website:
Starting Monday the 12th of July 2021, their crowdfunding campaign will be live selling their Fall/Winter 21 collection and launching the PO'MA project officially. They need 50 purchases to be viable; find them on Kickstarter : https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/pomamadeby/poma