We were wandering through Manaure, a dusty, arid town in Colombia’s northernmost Guajira Peninsula. Most people come to Manaure looking to work in the salinas, or salt mines, but we were searching for something else: a group of women we heard were organized into a women’s cooperative to make the neon-esque, brilliantly patterned mochila bags traditional to the Wayuu people.
The story of the Wayuu is a story of deep mythicism, violent rebellion, and economic injustice. Today, the relationship of the Wayuu to the rest of Colombia is one marked by exploitation and neglect. Women turn to their traditional crafts as one of the only ways to make ends meet. Each mochila takes about twenty days to make, by the hands of multiple generations of a single-family, and the stories of the Wayuu are woven into each mochila. Few others buy the mochila bags and other Wayuu products straight from the source – from the hands of the woman who wove them, in the homes where their family lives. It’s there where you hear the stories of pride. And of struggle. Of daughters who care little for learning the artisan traditions of their mothers and grandmothers. And of boys who dream of the city. Of fashion designers, trekking through to demand deep discounts and then never returning.
We walked the length of the town searching, but the coop was shut down. Finally, we met Nazly who restored our hope in the quest. The idea of a woman’s cooperative is alive, she told us, but the storefront and business had to shut down when they couldn’t cover costs for the members. Nazly then walked us over to the homes of some of the cooperative women, where we met Diana and her family. Diana, like the other members of the coop, makes mochilas and other traditional crafts in her home with help from her family. She learned the craft from her mother when she came of age, and now we watched on as she attempts to teach her young daughters the same trade.
Our vision is one of dignity. Of value for what is made and what is precious. With direct connection with the women of Manaure, we pay market price for each bag or other Wayuu craft. But that is only the beginning of a just relationship. In addition, we are committed to returning 15% of the profits from every item sold, directly to the Wayuu craftswoman we work with. Evidence shows that when women receive direct wages, they spend them well. On their children, on their health, and in their community. For now, we’ll be working directly with the women of the Manaure cooperative, women like Diana – and their mothers and daughters. The profit shares from the last bags sold will allow them to dedicate the full 20 days it takes to craft a mochila in the highest quality, and in that way, we will start to build a sustainable growth cycle for their traditions, together. It is also intended to embed a certain pride in the next generation and show the value of maintaining cultural tradition and craft with Wayuu youth.
ATAAMIA, handcrafted by the Wayuu women in Guajira, Colombia. 15% of gross profits go back to the Wayuu communities.