In a beautiful stroke of cosmic luck, I recently stumbled upon ethical knitwear brand Mantari, based out of Peru. I read their story and was immediately inspired and deeply moved by their women’s knitting collective, which employs over 100 mothers and provides consciously created pieces to consumers with ethics at their heart.
The deeper we travel down the path of self healing and remembrance of our place within the great embrace of mother nature, the more crucial it is (for our own wellbeing as well as that of the planet) that we support fair, ethical, traditional and indigenous production methods that not only provide delicious pieces with which to celebrate the ceremony that is everyday life, but that also keep vital skills alive which would otherwise not perhaps make it to the next generations.
I caught up with Juana, founder of Mantari, to learn more about her journey and her work, and was very touched to hear her sharings about ancestral traditions, empowering mothers and women, and truly tending to her local community.
What do you feel when you are knitting?
I feel joy, tranquility and hope that I am doing something good.
As a child, weaving was indispensable for me and I liked that too. Today it’s like my hobby; even in my spare time I am weaving or embroidering, or making a first sample to show and teach to the mothers.
What are the greatest blessings and challenges involved in working together as a family of women?
The biggest challenge was to get my daughters to continue with the company as well as be independent, and for them to really enjoy it and want it. We built our foundation through communication: we share a very close relationship, and this helped them to find the passion necessary to continue moving our mission forward. The drive and need to continuously evolve our project have grown with time; the idea of economic independence was always at the centre: the importance of giving work to others, so that everyone can grow together. I believe we are doing it.
What has been the most difficult challenge to juggle work and motherhood?
Motherhood is a blessing and a challenge. Practically speaking, it involved a lot of simply putting my baby on my back and continuing to work. I remember that the night before the birth of my daughter Edith, I stayed until very late finishing knitting and baking, to leave everything ready, since I knew I’d go to the hospital the next day.
That’s how our life was: while they grew up they were next to me, with the machines, with the clothes, with everything that was our work.
Can you share a little about how your mothers in Peru might feel more supported than in our more isolated society here?
Well, a focus on family definitely provides a huge support. I stopped working in a public institution so that I could do this work and also raise my children myself – and that they wouldn’t get spoiled by their grandparents… who are often the ones to help out. I said that it shouldn’t be that way: I’m still in the company and I’m with them. Together with my husband at that time. We worked out how we could raise them together and stay close as a family. Now we do this with all the mothers: we support each other and work together, taking care of our families and work as a team. The advantage, of course, was that I love this job: if not for that, things would have been very different.
How have you seen Mantari empowering women and allowing them to thrive?
We empower each other, both as a company and as a community. It’s also important to mention that innovation has also greatly empowered Mantari: before, the machines were small and manual and this made the work very slow, so we saw the possibility of acquiring electric machines, with programming … and that facilitated the work, and export opportunities, which we are now devoting ourselves to. Then over time we have managed to obtain industrial machines, which has been a great advance for Mantari.
In this way, we have been able to employ more mothers and women weavers. We train them to learn to do everything Mantari can offer, so they can take the skills with them forever. And before I work with them on their skills, we discuss all areas of their life: violence, parenting, health, etc., which has allowed them to grow too – and cultivated a precious safe space in which to come together and share.
What does it mean for you to keep these threads of wisdom alive?
It is an honor, and a responsibility, for us to continue with these ancestral knitting traditions. There are women who disparage their work by saying “I am only a weaver or embroiderer” as if this activity were not enough. But this is not the case: they participate in a productive process of creation, and thanks to them we continue to value our ancestor’s traditions, strengthen the bonds of our community, and contribute to running our homes. That is why all women weavers or finishers should feel very proud. And as new products always come out, not only with stick or machine knitting, but also with crochet, or macramé (a very nice but difficult fabric!) we have to beat the forefront as well and combine our wisdom with technology to keep it current.
What do you want your daughters to remember?
That we learned to work together, and that they should feel proud since we have done it with an ethical vision, because it is very likely that their children may follow this path; and if not, pride will remain for what we have achieved for our families and community in our small corner of the world.