Aguayo, a traditional Bolivian textile, is the name of the fabric we use to detail our bags & accessories. Growing up, I remember being fascinated about the bright bold colors of Aguayo when I saw them on the backs of women carrying their children, or at random restaurants as tablecloths, and of course at each and every single touristic market. My favourite one is the Sagarnaga street (or witches’ market) – where you can find everything and sometimes creepy stuff, like lama fetuses for instance. Yes, I know what you’re thinking right now: WHAT? Some people burry the lama foetus before building a house, because they think the structure will last longer. But hey, here's a colorful picture of a Bolivian woman carrying her smiling child on her back with a piece of Aguayo. Isn't it cute?
© Christian Rodriguez / National Geographic
So let’s get back to it, Aguayo carries centuries of Andean textile tradition (about 3,000 years) and it represents the heritage of the Andean, who were monumental for textile weaving. Significant ancient Andean societies, such as the Tiwanaku, Chavin, Moche, Nazca, etc. lacked written languages, and so weaving was their primary means of transmitting images, ideas and status. Ancient masterpieces are kept in museums, or perhaps hung on the walls of private collectors; who are keen to preserve the magnificence of Andean culture and history.
For those who are wondering what Andean means, Andean countries refer to seven South American nations connected by the Andes mountain range: Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia. These countries have a shared culture that was spread during the times of the Inca Empire (such as the Quechua language, textile weaving, cuisine, etc.).
Some of these countries have preserved their weaving traditions, except perhaps Argentina or Chile where Andean culture is less present. Andean textiles can be mostly found in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia where countless communities use natural fibers and processes to weave, especially women.
However, in Bolivia and Peru, locals have adapted weaving traditions to a more contemporary lifestyle. Aguayo became an indispensable tool, for women to carry their children or to transport goods and food. Aguayo is also used to craft home accessories, souvenirs, leather goods and even furniture. The demand for Aguayo grew and so local producers, usually located in urban areas, started to mix natural fibers with acrylic fibers. They also used machines to optimize the production process, in order to produce more and better. Handmade Aguayo made of natural fibers only can be really expensive, and the truth is that it is not very easy to work with it when it comes to detailing leather goods, because of its thickness and the lightness of the fibers. We sometimes use it, but we mostly use modern Aguayo, as it comes in brighter colors and shapes, that I am obsessed with.
In 2014 Aguayo lands in West African soil in my suitcase, one ocean apart from our native Bolivia, together we meet amazing Senegalese artisans that fell in love with the textile and enjoyed working with it. This is (kind of) how KEARA was born, the idea came up naturally, matured and grew with some time.
I am very grateful to be able to produce our bags & accessories in Senegal and to be able to work with highly skilled artisans who carry years of craftsmanship tradition. Most of them became artisans because they inherited their skills, and passed them on from generation to generation. I just love to hear Mbaye’s stories (our senior artisan) about how he inherited his craftsman skills from his father. Mbaye's father used to own and manage a large artisan workshop in the artisanal village of Soumbedioune in Dakar, Senegal's capital. His work earned important recognitions from international trade organizations and the Senegalese government. Mbaye remembers that during his father's time, artisans used to work by teams, allowing them to produce large quantities of leather goods. Sadly, this is not the case anymore. Because individualism has hit every society, most artisans today have their own small workshop and work on their own. They produce smaller quantities and sell it mostly to off seasonal tourists, which is very unstable and does not allow them to make long-term financial plans.
He keeps a very fond memory of the first time his father asked him to cut a piece of leather back when he was a small child. He said: "cut." Mbaye had never been taught how to cut, and replied, "but papa, I don't know how to do it." His father repeated the same word again and again until he did made the cut. And he does it until now, and believe me, he makes amazing bags.
This is the story of our eclectic African-Andean fusion, brought by chance from Bolivia to Senegal, where both cultures blend harmoniously through KEARA.