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Deepening our understanding of craft and culture in Peru

This guest post comes from Nest’s Director of Artisan Compliance and Programming, Sara Otto

Nest’s recent trip to Peru took us to a wide range of climates and regions of the country as we conducted a series of ethical compliance assessments at the artisan workshops of one of our partners. Seeing as Nest’s compliance model is predicated on relationship building and creation of context-specific solutions the compliance challenges our partners may face, these trips also foster our deeper understanding of the regional nuances that characterize the diverse crafts and cultures we visit – ultimately helping us make a more meaningful and sustainable impact.

Starting in Lima, we then hopped a short flight to hot, coastal Chulucanas, a town in the foothills of the Piura highlands. Here, hundreds of artisans still actively practice the two–thousand–year–old pottery traditions and techniques of the Vicus civilization. The potters shape each piece of hand-thrown clay on a potter’s wheel like many types of pottery, but the region is known for hand burnishing the pieces with small river stones to create a smooth surface and after being dried in a wood burning kiln, the pieces are fired a second time with smoldering mango leaves to give them their beautiful blackened finish.

We then we flew down to Huancayo and drove three hours through the Southern Andes mountains to the small town of Paucara, which has a population of about 2,000 people, many of whom are farmers and artisans. After passing herds of alpacas along the way, we finally stopped at the small workshop where roughly 20 weavers hand-weave beautiful, soft throws, shawls, and blankets with delicate alpaca yarns. In celebration of the visit, the artisans prepared a special lunch of seasoned meats, vegetables, and colorful potatoes using a traditional Incan method of earthen cooking with hot stones called Pachamanca.

The last day took us back to Huancayo, the capital of the Peruvian Central Andes sitting at around 10,650 feet in altitude. The region is known for its farmlands, hiking, and craft traditions. Here, we visited another group of handloom weavers who recently moved their operations from high in the mountains into the commercial center of the region where the business operations are easier to manage. The workshop is managed by a father – daughter team who splits the oversight of the male and female artisans.

 

 

A Photo Journey to Guatemala: Nest Professional Fellowship Story

Photo Credits: Tai Power Seef and Annie Martin

Through Nest’s Professional Fellowship, professional photographers, Tai Power Seeff and Annie Martin, traveled to Guatemala to photograph the artisans of Meso Goods, a Guatemalan-based company and Nest Guild member, dedicated to the design and production of exclusive handmade home decor and personal accessories.

As a brand employing traditional artisan techniques while working to celebrate the cultural heritage of Guatemala through a fresh and modern lens, Meso Goods recognizes its potential to stand out in a crowded marketplace by revealing the stories of the people who make its products. Nest stepped in to help further these goals by matching up Meso Goods with Tai and Annie for a project aimed at using compelling imagery to improve Meso Goods’ marketing and communications resources.

Says Tai of the experience: “Guatemala is a more diverse and fascinating place than I ever imagined. Village to village, languages, topography, and customs change drastically. With such a diversity of culture within the country, and considering that the Guatemalan people tend to have a general hesitance to being in front of the camera, the connections we were able to make through Meso Goods and Nest were absolutely invaluable.

The Meso Goods artisans welcomed us into their homes and workshops, and we were able to collaborate with them for a purpose greater than the average travel portrait. It was a wonderful feeling, not only to be able to capture some beautiful images, but to know that these images would tell the wider story of their astonishing skill and deep cultural heritage, and through that legacy, illustrate the value of these one-of-a-kind pieces.

I’ve been a travel photographer for many years, but this is one of the first times that I’ve known for certain that the images will directly benefit the communities I’m photographing. It was a deeply fulfilled experience on all accounts.”

Gonzalo Pertile, co-founder of Meso Goods, says: “We are really excited with how the pictures turned out, and we’re totally amazed by Tai and Annie’s work! They were able to capture the essence of the artisans and the work they do in such a natural way. We use the imagery to improve our marketing materials and better tell our brand story. And they will also help support growth in our public relations efforts to raise awareness for our brand, mission, and story.”

 

Making Nest’s Standards US-Labor Law Compliant: Setting a Path for Supporting US Makers

This special guest post comes from Nest’s Chief Operating Officer, Chris van Bergen

In developing Nest’s model for ethical compliance in homes and small workshops, we have sought to ensure that the program meets the needs of both our brand partners as well as the artisans we serve. To do this, we’ve sought to create enough flexibility for the program to evolve, allowing us to appropriately address the ever-changing regulations and requirements placed upon both artisans and the brands they work with. We are now actively seeking funding for the creation of new modules that can link up with our compliance program to make room for this growth.

Given the robust and nuanced nature of US Labor Law, particularly as it relates to home-based labor allowances, we are giving special attention to our compliance program for US-based artisan businesses to ensure that these enterprises can successfully interface with the country’s very stringent existing legal requirements.

Our aims are both to help foster growth of the existing maker movement in the US, while creating new opportunities for traditional American craftspeople – from the hills of Appalachia to Native American communities – to be able to grow their businesses by utilizing Nest’s compliance resources while still complying with US labor laws. We know that this level of assurance not only enforces artisan wellbeing; it also provides prospective sourcing partners like home and design brands with much-needed assurance surrounding ethical practice within their home-based supply chains.

This week, I am here in Florence, Alabama to learn from Nest artisan partner, Alabama Chanin, and its founder (and Nest Advisory Board Member) Natalie Chanin. It’s not the first time we have teamed up to tackled common challenges standing in the way of craft advancement in the US – and as always, we aim to transform challenge into opportunity.

Already, Natalie and her team have poured their own time and resources into developing an innovative (and truly revolutionary!) model for working with cottage industry producers, building a system that utilizes the remarkable quilting, sewing, and embroidery skills of women in their homes all across the rural South, while still managing to appropriately comply with US Labor requirements. On top of this, the Alabama Chanin system, one built on the artisan empowerment, accountability and ownership, has also dramatically improved quality control across the Alabama Chanin supply chain. It’s an honor that Natalie and her team are willing to take the time to teach me a thing or to about their highly successful (and compliant!) approach.

I will be making the most of my time here absorbing as much information as possible to help give Nest a baseline understanding of what our US Labor Law compliance project will entail. I can say that I am in good hands with the Alabama Chanin team, who has been has been walking me through the company’s production processes to better understand what alterations were made to comply with tricky US labor law requirements. Together, we will also sift through the existing Nest Standards for Homes and Small Workshops to highlight those sections that will need to be addressed, altered, or strengthened for US-based businesses to meet government regulations. This initial review will be followed by intensive reviews with Nest’s pro bono law firm in New York.

As a side benefit, I get to do all of this in the comfort of Alabama Chanin‘s beautiful space at Building 14. If you are ever near Florence, Alabama, do yourself a favor and visit this mecca to artisan craft and design. Come for the beautiful product, stay for the pimento grilled cheese!

Nest is currently seeking funding partners to help make this US Labor Law compliance project possible. For more information on Nest’s Standards, or to partner with us on the program, please contact Nest’s Chief Strategy and Partnerships Officer at ashia@buildanest.org