Ecuador de­sign­ers rein­vig­o­rate indige­nous style for mod­ern age

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

RIOBAMBA, Ecuador — Af­ter years of tak­ing a back seat to Western style, indige­nous fash­ion is re-emerg­ing in Ecuador, thanks to a new gen­er­a­tion of de­sign­ers who are re-imag­in­ing tra­di­tional clothes.

“Make the turn snappy!” said Juana Chi­caiza, who founded the mod­el­ing agency “Awkis y Nus­tas” — “Princes and Queens” in the Quechua lan­guage.

She is teach­ing her young charges how to best show off the “anaco”, a tra­di­tional An­dean skirt, on the cat­walks.

A for­mer beauty queen, Chi­caiza — a mem­ber of the Pu­ruha indige­nous group — was mocked at a pageant be­cause of her tra­di­tional garb.

The ex­pe­ri­ence in­spired the 32-year-old to open her agency in 2013 and “strengthen the iden­tity” of the Pu­ruha on the run­ways, where mod­els now sashay in out­fits that mix “the Western and the an­ces­tral”.

Latin Amer­i­can agen­cies gen­er­ally seek mod­els with hour­glass fig­ures and fine fea­tures, the de­signer said.

“We’re not look­ing for that,” Chi­caiza said. “We’re look­ing for women with char­ac­ter.”

In Ecuador, indige­nous peo­ples make up 30 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion of 16.5 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to or­ga­ni­za­tions rep­re­sent­ing them.

But many in­hab­i­tants do not rec­og­nize them­selves as such: of­fi­cial cen­sus records say the coun­try’s indige­nous pop­u­la­tion is just 7 per­cent of the to­tal.

Like Chi­caiza, fash­ion de­sign­ers are also work­ing to help peo­ple re­new their pride in their her­itage.

Lu­cia Guillin and Franklin Janeta, who are also mem­bers of the Pu­ruha eth­nic group, have launched their own indige­nous fash­ion la­bels — re­spec­tively, Chu­randy and Vispu.

“Our Pu­ruha clothes have dis­ap­peared and young peo­ple have started dress­ing in the Western style,” said Guillin, don­ning one of her own shoul­der-bar­ing cre­ations.

Pieces from their lines, in­clud­ing tops and skirts em­bel­lished with hand-em­broi­dered flow­ers, range in price from $150-800.

The most ex­pen­sive items, of­ten em­bel­lished with stones and em­broi­dery, are aimed at brides and beauty queens.

The de­sign­ers use tra­di­tional or­na­ments and sym­bols, like flow­ers or the sun, but are mak­ing up­dates more in line with con­tem­po­rary styles, such as with more dar­ing cuts.

“There were no low-cut neck­lines, no short sleeves,” Janeta said. “I asked my­self, ‘What if we changed it?’ Be­cause young girls like things a lit­tle more mod­ern.”

This new gen­er­a­tion of indige­nous en­trepreneurs also in­cludes Es­ther Mi­randa, Jose Mullo and Jac­que­line Tuquinga — who launched the per­fume brand Yu­yary (Mem­ory, in Quechua) — de­sign­ers who also see Western­ers as po­ten­tial tar­get con­sumers.

“As it’s a brand in Quechua, peo­ple think it’s just for our com­mu­ni­ties,” Mi­randa said. “But we want to go be­yond that.”

JUAN CEVALLOS / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A cus­tomer looks at blouses at a store in Riobamba, Ecuador. The coun­try’s fash­ion in­dus­try is grab­bing at­ten­tion for its tra­di­tional de­signs.

ARIS MESSI­NIS / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

An ex­pert works on hu­man bones in a lab at the Amer­i­can School of Ar­chae­ol­ogy in Athens.

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