Ecuador designers reinvent indigenous style for modern age
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 reimagining traditional clothes.
“Make the turn snappy!” says Juana Chicaiza, who founded the modelling agency Awkis y Nustas
- ‘Princess 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 with long dark hair, Juana - 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 told. “We’re not looking for that,” Juana said. “We’re looking for women with character.”
In Ecuador, indigenous peoples make up 30 per cent of the population of 16.5mn, according to organisations representing them. But many inhabitants do not recognise themselves as such: Official census records say the country’s indigenous population is just seven per cent of the total.
Like Juana, fashion designers are also working to help people renew their pride in their heritage.
A hint of edge
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,” says Lucia, 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 US$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 lowcut necklines, no short sleeves,” Janeta said. “I asked myself, ‘What if we changed it?’ Because young girls like things a little more modern.”
Lucia, for her part, has succeeded in convincing women to wear the traditional skirt proudly once more by giving the garment a hint of edge, with mermaid cuts, trains, flaring and side-slits, she said.
“We must put a stop to the idea that Indians are closed off,” she said. “If we continue with this, we also risk losing our culture.” According to Janeta, who said he makes some US$12,000 a month in sales, customers are beginning to understand the value of the handmade attire.
“We taught people how to distinguish different qualities,” he said. “Before it was difficult to sell a blouse for more than US$60 - not anymore. They’ll pay up to US$400 for a corset.”
This new generation of indigenous entrepreneurs also includes Esther Miranda, Jose Mullo and Jacqueline Tuquinga - who launched the perfume brand Yuyary - designers who also see Westerners as potential target consumers. “As it’s a brand in Quechua, people think it’s just for our communities,” Esther said. “But we want to go beyond that.”
Our Puruha clothes have disappeared and young people have started dressing in the Western style
Puruha-style hand-embroidered blouses at a store in Riobamba, Ecuador
Franklin Janeta, the owner of indigenous-style clothing store, helps a customer to try an outfit Esther Miranda, owner of a perfumery Lucia Guillin, a Puruhastyle fashion designer shows her designs