[Interview] From Cali To Peru, 2 Young Designers Make Their Mark

Photo: PAX co-founder Jozy poses with artisans she is helping. (Peruvian Artists Exchange)

When it came to choosing internships for their design programs at San Jose State University, Jozy Klupar and Susi Matsuoka looked beyond the local offerings. Way beyond. Like, another-continent-beyond.

They set their sights on Peru, linking up with The Chijnaya Foundation, an organization that immersed them in local culture. They made friends. They milked cows. They fell in love with the beautiful alpaca wool designs created by local artisans. Then they had an idea on how to help Peruvian women turn talent into profits, lifting them from extreme poverty — and bringing a little extra color into consumers’ closets.

These two ladies, now both 25, started Peruvian Artisan Exchange (PAX), a direct route for people like us to economically empower Chijnayan women. As Jozy points out, it’s not just compassionate shopping, it’s smart shopping. “Lately money is tight, so we need to stop purchasing items designed to be thrown away. We need to have a personal connection or relationship with the products we purchase (and the materials used) so it becomes harder for us to throw them away. If we know the root of their creation it can help to form this connection.”

Susi recently completed her program; Jozy is set to graduate this spring. With just 3 weeks left on their indiegogo fundraising campaign, there is little doubt that life beyond university walls will kick PAX into high gear. We spoke to them about the root of their project’s creation, so to speak — and why your next move matters.

Photo: Peruvian artisans that make awesome stuff you can buy! (Peruvian Artists Exchange)

ACT: What is Chijnaya like?

JOZY + SUZI: Chijnaya is a small town of 200 people in the Altiplano of Peru. The surrounding landscape is miles of golden rolling hills. They all own many cows, which they milk everyday to take to the queseria, which sells the cheese to various towns in Peru. It is at an extremely high elevation above 13,000 feet. We were there in their winter so the days were moderate but the nights were bone-chilling. It even snowed a few days.

The town is extremely poor. The floors and walls of the houses are dirt, the only running water (untreated) is a spout which comes out of the ground which is constantly freezing. They have electricity for two hours a night and the bathroom consists of a hole in the ground. But even with their living conditions they have high spirits and smiles on their faces. They’re extremely friendly and warm and made us feel extremely comfortable in their homes. They survive on mostly grains and lots of potatoes and once a week they will have meat or fish. Rarely does anyone attend school after 8th grade because they need to earn money just to survive.

ACT: Can you share the story of a Peruvian woman with whom you had a personal relationship?

JOZY: My host mother, Angela Mara Panzana , was a sweet women who I became very close to. She grew up in Chijnaya and married another Chijnayan. He could not find work so he went to Lima, Peru where he found work as a salesman and made some money which he would send back to his family. They had 3 children — Rosie, Magaly, and Maritsa — but because he made so much money, some men in Lima killed him out of jealousy around the time Magaly and Maritsa were born (they are twins). Now the family is extremely poor and when Maritsa was young they had to give her to another woman in Chijnaya so she could raise her.

Angela has raised 2 children on her own (the girls are 16 and 19) and does everything she can to put food on the table. She is tired and gets injured often because she must perform dangerous work with the livestock. Rosie has stopped going to school to help with the workload. Angela desperately wants a better life for her children but does not have the funds to do so. Her story is similar to most of the women of Chijnaya. These women are strong and hardworking and determined to change their children’s future. All of the young girls know the crochet and embroidery skills and some are even part of the artisan group.

ACT: What suggestions do you have for fashionable young socially responsible consumers?

JOZY + SUZI:  In the end, there is no perfect solution to help the world. Each individual can take their own steps to giving back to those in need. Each person can help in a different way, whether it be by purchasing TOMS shoes, which gives a pair to a child in need, or Vers, a startup speaker system company that plants 100 trees for every one tree they use in production or even starting their own project/company on Indiegogo to help empower women. Together we can solve these problems but we need to be conscious consumers. We need to begin to think about the process the product went through to get into our hands.

ACT: And as for PAX treasures?

JOZY + SUZI: [Baby alpacas] are not harmed in this process! The first coat the Alpaca gets shaved off is the softest. After each shave the fiber becomes a little coarser. That is why baby alpaca yarn is much softer than older alpaca yarn. Some women in Chijnaya roll the fleece into yarn. The fleece is shaved and then washed. The alpacas look even cuter when they are shaved!. They are then handspun with a drop spindle. They then use this yarn to crochet the various products. They usually do this work when they take the cows out to the field to graze.

There is no post office or FedEx to this remote community, travel to a town an hour away is required to ship the products. Once the products are finished we have employed a local to collect all the products and travel to this town to ship the products. For the first time they will be paid a fair wage. The artisans receive 85% of the revenue on each item sold. The rest goes into the transportation of the products.

Photo: An adorable Alpaca in Peru. (Peruvian Artists Exchange)

ACT: Finally, how do you have time to create and run this campaign, do your school work and have a social life?!

JOZY + SUZI: It is really hard to juggle work, school, PAX, and relationships! Many sleepless nights have come from it! But It really helps having two of us working on the project and the advice we receive from all the awesome professors in the program. We also have an tight group of friends and family who have been super supportive and helpful.

Photo: Some the items available for purchase through PAX. (Peruvian Artists Exchange)

How can you be a friend of PAX? Click on the links below to buy a product of your own — and donate to their campaign to help the project fly!

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Peruvian Artisan Exchange

Peruvian Artisan Exchange

Visit the PAX store to pick an alpaca accessory for a cozy touch of color this season.