“Luxury is in each detail.”
The words of Hubert de Givenchy, fashion designer and founder of the House of Givenchy, ring true. In fashion, details may travel thousands of kilometres before being fastened, stitched or set into just the right place.
But where does a detail’s journey begin?
Animaná and the Andes
In some cases it begins in the Andes Mountains of South America. The Andes are a long way from high-fashion capitals like New York and Paris. Yet they are the source of the world’s finest, most luxurious wool. This wool is shorn from the alpacas, llamas and wild camelids that graze the landscape, then finished by master weavers who continue to use time-honoured skills and ancient techniques.
Animaná serves as a trade network to connect those at the start of the value chain to those to those at the end.
This process captivated Adriana Marina, founder of Animaná Trading (Animaná), a certified Empresa B. Born in Patagonia, Marina learned of the region’s natural fibres and its rich heritage. But the reality of the loss of ancestral techniques and the poverty in the region concerned her.
She wanted to connect the people to markets. She also wanted to respect their livelihoods, culture and environment. And so she began Animaná.
Facing the Fashiontas
Headquartered in Buenos Aires, Animaná serves as a trade network to better connect those at the very start of the value chain—artisans, weavers and small-scale farmers—to those to those at the end—designers, companies and consumers. Since 2008, Animaná has been employing artisans to produce textiles, clothing and household accessories with respect to the techniques and craftsmanship of the people of the Andes and Patagonia.
It has been a challenging journey. Demanding fashionistas and the “fast fashion” industry tend to be impatient and are increasing pressure at the very start of fashion’s supply chains. Fast fashion, which purports to satiate the desire of “young consumers in the industrialized world for luxury goods,” disregards the origins of clothes and the well-being of their makers.
And, known luxury brands can by no means be excused. Proprietary secrecy and branding leave large question marks about the sustainability of the industry. Runway glitz and glamour only lead consumers to disassociate a product from its origins, and make it harder to protect the integrity of the product and the producer.
Working within these realities, Animaná needed to ensure that Andean artisans and producers would be properly rewarded for their materials and their craftsmanship. So how did Animaná do it?
The Critical Path
1. Directly empower local communities in rural areas.
Recognizing the widening gap between artisans and their work in the fashion industry, Animaná took steps to reconnect individuals with their craft. Such moves included improving access to markets for rural providers by hiring local, rural people as suppliers of services, and creating high quality jobs in the same rural communities. By facilitating more direct opportunities Animaná continues to reduce the artisans’ dependence on intermediaries and middlemen who often cut into profits.
2. Safeguard Andean traditions and culture.
Animaná also works to protect and promote the regional modes of production for its artisans. Understanding its potential as an educator, Animaná uses its platforms to inform people at multiple points in the value chain – including consumers – about the origins of their textiles. Young designers from around the world are encouraged to learn from and exchange knowledge with these artisan communities. This fosters an awareness of both responsible practices and origins of ‘the detail’ in the industry.
3. Safeguard Andean habitat and species.
Respecting Andean culture, however, goes beyond the artisans themselves. Animaná also endeavours to protect all of the species involved in its supply chain. Through sustainable breeding of South American camelids, such as alpacas and llamas, Animaná amasses its fibres in unobtrusive and ethical ways.
Small Steps, Big Feat
Animaná has promoted the revival of culture in Patagonia and the Andes through fair trade, local development and the incorporation of added value to the natural fibres of the region. International designers have been able to collaborate with local communities to learn about alternatives to the production, consumption and marketing models common in today’s globalized economy.
Within the fast-paced field of fashion, Animaná has persevered. It continues to reconnect the industry with a sense of value built around high-quality wools, traditional weaving techniques and creating a distinctive culture all its own. It has successfully increased its ability to adapt precisely by championing responsible practices – no small feat in an often cut-throat industry.
Animaná. 2011. Ethical Chic from Patagonia and the Andes. [Online]. http://source.ethicalfashionforum.com/article/ethical-chic-from-patagonia-and-the-andes
Animaná. N.d. Ethical Chic from Patagonia and the Andes. [Brochure]. http://www.animanaonline.com/eng/pdf/savoirfairebrochure.pdf
Joy, A., Sherry, J.F., Venkatesh, A., Wang, J. and Chan, R. 2012. "Fast Fashion, Sustainability, and the Ethical Appeal of Luxury Brands." Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture. 16.3: 273-296. http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/bloomsbury/jdbc/2012/00000016/00000003/art00002
Sistema B. 2014. "New Economies and Rural Wellbeing: Ecosystems for Empresas B in Latin America." [Online Report]. http://academiab.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/FORD-version-FINAL-12.15.14-1.pdf