Holts took us to South Amer­ica—we should have brought a spare suit­case for all the in­spo we brought back.

Christina Reynolds heads off on a four-day South Amer­i­can ad­ven­ture in search of the best slow-fash­ion finds.

ELLE (Canada) - - Insider - By Christina Reynolds

Day 1 Lima, Peru

You know a de­signer has cre­ated some­thing spe­cial when you’re mag­net­i­cally drawn to it. You. Must.See.It. You. Must. Touch .It. That’s what hap­pens when we ar­rive at the Es­cudo de­sign stu­dio in Lima, Peru. “I don’t know what that is, but I want to put it on my body,” says Alexan­dra We­ston, the di­rec­tor of brand strat­egy for Holt Ren­frew. She then care­fully in­spects the crafts­man­ship of the dress, which is made of hun­dreds of light-grey seed pods strung to­gether with loops of braided grass. “Stun­ning,” she says. “Just stun­ning.” We­ston is here to scout so­cially con­scious ar­ti­sanal goods for Holt Ren­frew’s H Project, an in-store spe­cialty shop. She has called her lat­est pas­sion “Un­crate South Amer­ica,” and, as with pre­vi­ous projects, which were set in In­dia and Africa, she’s cu­rat­ing prod­ucts from this part of the world that meet the aes­thetic and philo­soph­i­cal goals that she es­tab­lished when she launched the pro­gram in 2013. She asks

Gi­u­liana Mac­chi­avello, one of the de­sign­ers be­hind the three- year- old Peru­vian la­bel, for the story be­hind the dress. “It was hand­made by two women from the Ama­zon,” says Mac­chi­avello, who de­signs the line with her sis­ter in close col­lab­o­ra­tion with mas­ter weavers, knit­ters, em­broi­der­ers and bead­ers. “They were so in­spired and em­pow­ered to see that they can earn money through crafts. This is why we start by look­ing at what the ar­ti­sans can do and then de­sign around that. We in­clude them in the whole process.” Un­der­stand­ing that process is also key for We­ston. Be­fore com­mis­sion­ing prod­ucts, she en­sures that she knows ex­actly who has pro­duced them and where the raw ma­te­ri­als come from. She likes what she has learned at Es­cudo, so sev­eral of the brand’s pieces will find their way into H Project shops. “This project is like my third baby,” says We­ston, who has two young sons. “We can be so dis­con­nected from our prod­ucts and our food in North Amer­ica. This is one way to make a stronger con­nec­tion and di­rectly sup­port the peo­ple mak­ing the goods.” Our next stop is the Peru Gift Show, one of South Amer­ica’s largest trade shows; it show­cases ar­ti­sanal goods from across the coun­try. While most of the buy­ing for Un­crate South Amer­ica was planned prior to the trip, We­ston and Laura Shad­dick, Holts’ man­ager of brand and cre­ative strat­egy, would like to find more jew­ellery and ac­ces­sories. We check out ev­ery­thing from An­dean opals to or­ganic-al­paca toys to a line of wo­ven bucket bags with leather trim. “We found three strong new pos­si­bil­i­ties, which is bet­ter than a whole bunch of po­ten­tials,” says We­ston. “Plus, we saw some of the items that we’ve al­ready se­lected; see­ing it all in con­text con­firms they are the right fit.”

Day 2 Cusco, Peru

To­day, we wake up in Cusco, the for­mer cap­i­tal of the In­can em­pire. We drive up above the city into the Urubamba moun­tains to visit two weav­ing col­lec­tives whose ar­ti­sans spe­cial­ize in the tra­di­tional process of hand dy­ing and weav­ing wools. The road is fright­en­ingly nar­row—“All we need is an inch,” quips our guide, Fran­cis Cas­apino. As we pass 3,800 me­tres, we’re still well be­low the tow­er­ing snow-capped peaks of the An­des. But even on this re­mote dirt road, we find our­selves faced with a traf­fic jam: A large pack of lla­mas, sheep and pigs (in­clud­ing six adorable piglets) is mak­ing its way to­ward us. We get out to take a closer look, and within min­utes one of the lla­mas takes a spe­cial in­ter­est in We­ston, who is wear­ing an Ulla John­son sweater em­bel­lished with al­paca wool that hangs off the shoul­ders. “It just wants to meet its cousin,” jokes Shad­dick. At our first stop in the vil­lage of Patabamba, we quickly get a sense of how phys­i­cally tax­ing weav­ing is. The wool must be har­vested and hand-washed and then spun into yarn. The women do this with spin­dles be­tween their toes while pulling back with their whole body. Then it is painstak­ingly dyed and spun again be­fore it can be wo­ven into any­thing. Back­strap looms are pop­u­lar here, but it can take two women a full day to set up a loom be­fore they can even be­gin weav­ing. It can then take months to h

com­plete a com­pli­cated piece. Next, we drive higher still to the even smaller vil­lage of Amaru (pop­u­la­tion 350) to visit the Amaru Weav­ing Com­mu­nity col­lec­tive. These women make wo­ven bracelets, hair ties and bags for New York-based de­signer Ulla John­son’s glob­ally in­spired line—30 per­cent of her col­lec­tion is pro­duced in Peru. H Project is part­ner­ing with John­son on an ex­clu­sive col­lec­tion of ac­ces­sories. We­ston, along with Heidi Bischoff, a mem­ber of John­son’s de­sign team, is here to re­view sketches and dis­cuss colour­ways and styles with the weavers. Bischoff speaks Span­ish, but the women do­ing the weav­ing only speak Quechua, so it be­comes a three-way translation. “What about some­thing like this?” Bischoff asks We­ston, point­ing to a skinny dou­ble-wrap bracelet with a tri­an­gle pattern and beads on the edge. “Yes, but not in that colour,” says We­ston. “What about pink and pur­ple and then the out­side is red or grey? And what will the clo­sure be like?” There is also talk about do­ing a small pouch bag—like a cell­phone sling—but they need to price it out first. It’s dif­fi­cult to com­mu­ni­cate with the weavers, but later I learn from April Borda—whose com­pany, ITV Peru, man­ages the day-to­day oper­ations in Peru for John­son—that they set up the col­lec­tive sev­eral years ago after most of their hus­bands were killed in a road ac­ci­dent. In ad­di­tion, they have now started to host small groups of tourists who want to ex­pe­ri­ence a tra­di­tional pachamanca meal, a Quechua word that means “earth oven,” of pota­toes, corn, pork, beef and guinea pig. Be­fore we leave, we join them for a late lunch in their newly built din­ing room—bal­anced on stilts, it of­fers views of the sur­round­ing quinoa fields. “You never know what to ex­pect when you come to a place like this,” says We­ston. “Ulla told me that it was amaz­ing. But the fact that they have this on­go­ing re­la­tion­ship, and have pro­duced so many prod­ucts to­gether over the years, makes it more spe­cial.”

Day 3 La Paz, Bo­livia

After a 7:40 a.m. flight, we ar­rive in La Paz, Bo­livia, which, at an al­ti­tude of 3,657 me­tres, is even higher than Cusco’s 3,399 me­tres. The city looks like it has been carved right into the moun­tain range. An­drea Lenczner and Christie Smythe, the Toronto-based de­sign­ers of Smythe, have joined us now, as well as Franceska Earls of Aug­den, the New York- and Bo­livia-based hand made-knit wear com­pany. The two brands have been col­lab­o­rat­ing for sev­eral sea­sons and are now work­ing on some ex­clu­sives for H Project. When we ar­rive at Aug­den head­quar­ters, two dozen lo­cal women are sit­ting at ta­bles knitting qui­etly—but at su­per­hu­man speeds. Dis­play cases in the show­room are stacked with spools of al­paca wools in a range of colours and tex­tures. Earls started the busi­ness in 2010. Her mother, Sonya Zuazo Ratay (who is Bo­li­vian), and her father, Andre Ratay, live in La Paz and co-man­age her busi­ness. We meet An­gela Lerico, one of Aug­den’s knit­ters. Through a trans­la­tor, she tells me how a friend taught her to knit. “When I be­came a sin­gle mother, I needed to find a way to feed my four chil­dren,” she says. “I love to knit. It is good work. I can re­lax my body when my hands stay so oc­cu­pied.” While we’re chat­ting, Lenczner, Smythe, Earls and We­ston go over the fall Smythe x Aug­den line, dis­cussing what will be avail­able at H Project—and in Holts’ con­tem­po­rary depart­ment as well. Holts has al­ready put in an or­der for a large num­ber of the su­per-soft over­sized al­paca sweaters. “Work­ing with Aug­den has been won­der­ful,” says Lenczner. “I don’t ever want to stop col­lab­o­rat­ing.”

Day 4 Uyuni, Bo­livia

Our show­room and ar­ti­san vis­its now com­plete, we have time to fly to Uyuni to see the world’s largest salt flat. We’re like a group of schoolchildren when we reach the vast, al­most fea­ture­less land­scape. “It’s like a beach, but it’s not,” says We­ston as she gets in a few cart­wheels. Later, we climb Isla Inc­ahuasi, a dor­mant volcano cov­ered in cacti in the mid­dle of the salt desert. We end our day at a very shal­low lake­( it’s just inches deep) to take in the sun­set. Rub­ber boots are a must. The re­flec­tion of all the deep pinks and soft blues across the salt wa­ter is dif­fer­ent with ev­ery turn of the head—ex­cept for our ve­hi­cle, we have un­ob­structed 360-de­gree views. We eat char­cu­terie, toast our ad­ven­tures and share our in­sights as we hang around to watch the moon­rise. “It’s all so in­spir­ing that it’s out of con­trol,” says Smythe. We­ston is par­tic­u­larly taken with a vista of mono­tone greens against a white­and-pink back­drop. “What an amaz­ing palette,” she says. “See­ing all this, meet­ing the ar­ti­sans and see­ing the prod­ucts be­ing made, it just gives you even more con­fi­dence that what we have cho­sen is rel­e­vant and will be a good rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the places and cul­tures.” We­ston notes that, aside from ben­e­fit­ing the ar­ti­sans, H Project has in­flu­enced the re­la­tion­ship that Holt Ren­frew has with all of its vend­ors. “The sus­tain­abil­ity el­e­ments have trick­led down into this big­ger cor­po­rate-re­spon­si­bil­ity pro­gram,” she ex­plains. “It’s about re­spect­ing our en­vi­ron­ment, in­spir­ing our peo­ple, cre­at­ing pos­i­tive change and sell­ing prod­ucts re­spon­si­bly.” n

Smythe x Aug­den Hand-knit al­paca-wool sweaters ($425 for the black and the pink; $495 for the blue om­bré) are avail­able at Holt Ren­frew’s H Project shops and on­line at holtren­frew.com as of Septem­ber 6.

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