Fashion and Facism

One of the missions of my adventure, particularly in South America, is to get in touch with local artensenias and their craft. Thanks to my dear friend and fellow fashion designer, Jillian Lewis (of Project Runway fame), I was able to visit a local Bolivian workshop that produces her knitwear on the outskirts of La Paz.

At 9:30 a.m. the hostel security guard walked me down to the private car and took down the driver’s license number and the license plate of the car to take me to the workshop. Muchos seguridad, but it did made me feel safer as kidnappings in cars are a daily La Paz occurence. I met Yelka, an English-speaking Bolivian who ran the business and she introduced me to the indigenous Aymaran craftswomen, many who travel on foot and by bus for over 4 hours from rural Bolivia to make a decent buck. “The women here are happy,” Yelka told me, “They come here and learn the patterns and prototypes for each design, but they can take the projects home to work and be with their families. It’s also good for their self-esteem to be able to earn their own money. Life is actually very good- coffee together every morning, they take long lunch breaks, and take their vacations very seriously.” Sounds like a far cry from the corporate New York lifestyle- where we think we are living the good life with mo money.

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At the time of my visit, the craftswomen were busy on a crocheted rayon sweater for Nicole Miller and chiffon-macramed shoes for Caesare Paciotti. I’m sure not one of them had a clue as to the first world status of the designers they were producing for. Yelka also showed me some of the protos they had worked on for Jillian and funnily enough, Ralph Lauren. I suddenly felt not so far away from home. It was rewarding to see the other side of the fashion process and how our design direction was interpreted- I never had the opportunity to visit any of our factories in Hong Kong while at Ralph. The meticulously detailed instructions I had to give when I worked as a designer now seemed to have a greater purpose.

A sketch from Rodarte, one of my favorite designers in the U.S., who apparently produces at the Bolivian workshop. Yelka griped to me about how unclear the crayon drawing was and I couldn't agree more-I'd never get away with that. Hope I don't get sued for releasing this photo before the design hits the runway.

A sketch from Rodarte, one of my favorite designers in the U.S., who apparently produces at the Bolivian workshop. Yelka griped to me about how unclear the crayon drawing was and I couldn't agree more-I'd never get away with that. Hope I don't get sued for releasing this photo before the design hits the runway.

After visiting the workshop, Yelka took me on a drive through the Southern, more affluent outskirts of La Paz. It was a world away from the central La Paz I had been experiencing the past two weeks. Full of schools, tennis courts, horse stables and fancy clothing stores, life for the “rich” La Paz-eans seemed not to shabby. Yelka’s tour answered many of the questions I had about Bolivian life. We chatted about the current socialist Bolivian president, Eva Morales and conversely about the United States economic and political situation. “Ugh, I am disgusted,” Yelka said about her president, “I’m trying to live in oblivion for the next  year”. Sound familiar? “I can’t believe they are making Americans pay $135 to come visit-you should have just not paid it…did you know Morales fired the U.S. Ambassador?” Oh politics. GoBama!

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~ by ceciliabien on January 18, 2009.

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