Vicky Aguirre and Carl Wil­son met in Ar­gentina, then brought a taste of her home­land to Byron Bay, NSW, with their home­wares store.


AR­GEN­TINIAN PHO­TO­JOUR­NAL­IST Vicky Aguirre fell in love with Carl Wil­son when on as­sign­ment in the Ata­cama Desert in Chile in April 2011. She was there to cover a story about two Ar­gen­tini­ans surf­ing their way from Cal­i­for­nia to Chile along the Pa­cific Ocean coast. Carl, a surfer and air­con­di­tioner me­chanic from the Gold Coast, had met the surf­ing duo and was trav­el­ling with them. He didn’t speak much Span­ish and, af­ter al­most a year on the road, was prepar­ing to go home. “I’d been trav­el­ling for 10 months by that time,” he says. “I was in Latin Amer­ica be­cause I wanted to dis­con­nect with life and start a new chap­ter.” “We were camp­ing in the mid­dle of nowhere and, at first, I didn’t want to have to make the ef­fort to speak English,” adds Vicky. “But, in the end, we were laugh­ing. We bonded over the land­scape — Carl had fallen in love with Latin Amer­ica big time — and our shared love of photography.” Vicky, who’d stud­ied photography in Buenos Aires and New York, fo­cused on fa­mil­iar sub­jects: horses and the land­scape on her fam­ily’s farm in the prov­ince of La Pampa, seven hours away from Buenos Aires. While Carl had no for­mal train­ing, he’d spent the time in Latin Amer­ica ex­plor­ing cre­ative photography. In the fol­low­ing weeks, the cou­ple trav­elled to­gether, tak­ing pho­to­graphs all the while, be­fore Carl re­turned home. By then, they knew Vicky would fol­low. “When I ar­rived, I had US$300 in my pocket and knew one per­son,” she says. “I didn’t know much about Aus­tralia. But I was in love and wanted to give it a go. We were liv­ing on the Gold Coast, right on the beach. I wasn’t work­ing and hit with such a frus­tra­tion of be­ing so far away from ev­ery­thing I knew and I wasn’t ex­pect­ing that. I had to rec­on­cile with the idea that I might stay here.” Walk­ing around Bris­bane one day and see­ing a store that sold Bo­li­vian rugs gal­vanised her. Vicky de­clared then and there that’s what she and Carl would do. They re­turned to Ar­gentina in 2013 to ex­plore the back roads and see what they could find. De­spite Carl never hav­ing used a com­puter — “Vicky taught me” — and nei­ther hav­ing any busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence, the cou­ple’s new ven­ture, Pampa, was born from the sale of the 20 hand­wo­ven Ar­gen­tinian rugs they bought on that trip. “Pampa has al­ways been in me,” ad­mits Vicky. “It’s my home­land, my grand­par­ents’ farm, horses, tex­tiles, my photography. I al­ways felt that I had to do some­thing con­nected to all the things I loved.” At the time, the cou­ple en­vis­aged the trade in rugs as a side project, but soon found them­selves with an in­tri­cate web of con­tacts all over Ar­gentina and scram­bling to build an on­line store. “We just jumped in and did what we needed to do to keep our heads above wa­ter,” says Carl. Bring­ing a small piece of Ar­gentina to Aus­tralia is more than a com­mer­cial trans­ac­tion for the pair. In these remote com­mu­ni­ties, weav­ing — both labour in­ten­sive and time con­sum­ing — is a way of life as well as a means of sur­vival, and a skill that’s handed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. Vicky and Carl have ob­served the process, from lo­cals shear­ing the sheep to hand-spin­ning and dye­ing the yarn — us­ing plants, veg­eta­bles and >

even insects and smoke — and weav­ing it on looms, some­times in the shade of a tree while watch­ing over their chil­dren. This has given the cou­ple a deep re­spect for the peo­ple. But these ar­ti­sanal skills are in dan­ger of be­ing lost as young peo­ple leave to find jobs in the city. Pro­vid­ing work and pay­ing a fair price leads to a more cer­tain fu­ture for the weavers — one that Vicky and Carl are proud to be in­volved with. Pampa is now a bricks-and-mor­tar store in Byron Bay, NSW, a large white­washed ware­house in the vicin­ity of Byron Bay’s Arts and In­dus­try Es­tate. The tex­tured rugs that have be­come Pampa’s sig­na­ture hang from the walls, as do large fine-art prints of Vicky’s horse series and a com­mis­sioned im­ages doc­u­ment­ing the res­i­dent High­land cows at The Farm Byron Bay. But there’s plenty more to tempt in­store: leather but­ter­fly chairs — orig­i­nally de­signed by an Ar­gen­tinian ar­chi­tec­tural trio in 1938 — are cov­ered in throws, pon­chos and cush­ions. Ham­mocks swing from hooks, and there are dis­plays of bags, jew­ellery, bas­kets and dolls. The cou­ple’s lifestyle re­volves around work — “I didn’t have a grey hair on my head un­til af­ter I got an ABN,” Carl says — and their much-loved choco­late labrador, Pon­cho, who’s as happy at Carl’s feet in the Pampa of­fice as run­ning along Be­longil Beach with Vicky af­ter work. “I love the ac­cess to na­ture here, the walks around our home in Ban­ga­low and the beaches and surf,” she says. The cou­ple re­turn to Ar­gentina sev­eral times a year to visit weavers and loved ones — Vicky’s brother Manuel man­ages pro­duc­tion and lo­gis­tics for them — and to take photos. A dream has be­come re­al­ity for Vicky. “Pampa has al­lowed me to travel, to see in­side peo­ple’s homes and re­main con­nected to my cul­ture. I’m proud to bring it here.” Visit Pampa at 1/12 Cen­ten­nial Cir­cuit, Byron Bay, NSW. (02) 6694 3152; pampa.com.au

PEO­PLE BYRON BAY NSW The cou­ple love to ex­plore na­ture around their home in Ban­ga­low with Pon­cho.

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