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Weaving Women’s Stories: A PUMA designer reflects on her two weeks in Peru

Sarah Lehleiter, Junior Accessories Designer at PUMA, recently returned from a two-week project in Peru, working alongside the artisans of Nest Guild business, Awamaki, as part of Nest’s Professional Fellowship Program with Kering Foundation. Sarah’s mission was to lead Awamaki’s local team in reimaging design through an authentic brand lens to as to help the artisan establishment better stand out in the local marketplace.

Coming from Germany, Sarah was excited for the opportunity to visit Peru for the first time, and quickly found Peruvians to be “the most welcoming people I have ever met.” Despite her lack of knowledge of the Spanish language, Sarah found herself able to communicate with the Awamaki team through the language of design.

“To visit the communities of women weavers was a great experience,” Sarah recounts. “There exists such a strong community and commitment to supporting one another. It impressed me that the men were equal participants in making sure that women were empowered, and they fully supported weaving employment as a way for women to provide for their families.”

The design process began with an initial plan for Sarah to design a series of small accessories that tourists could easily pop into their backpacks when passing through the Andes or to bring homes as gifts and souvenirs following their travels. However, Sarah also uncovered an opportunity to for Awamaki to differentiate itself better by establishing a stronger and more authentic brand identity. Following this thought process, Sarah worked alongside the Awamaki team on designing and new label and sign-off for the products that would better encapsulate and transport the Awamaki values of women’s economic empowerment.

From there, Sarah was able to move into leading up design for a new home collection including pillows and textile artwork. “The vision for these pieces was to weave women’s stories directly into the design motifs, so that mission and product would be united. We explored how the product itself can illustrate the brand values of championing women.” Sarah established a design framework and concept that she says the women can now create within and build upon, so that the impact of her fellowship can be more sustainable.

Says Kennedy Leavens, founder and CEO at Awakamki: “ Sarah was a tremendous help! During her visit, we ran into some challenges with a new product, a stuffed baby llama that we wanted to introduce as infant toy. The original design was not quite baby-proof, so Sarah was able to jump in and come up with several options for modifying the toy’s design.”

Following her two-week project, Sarah is now back at work at PUMA, but she has brought with her lessons that she says translate to her work in Germany: “everybody comes with a different story and unique understanding of the world. It is worth it to take the time to see your own point from a different angle.”