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Lucuma designs

LUCUMA DESIGNS, TEXTILES (BUYER), USA

Twenty years ago, Lucuma Designs, LLC, a US-based fair trade company, was founded by Alessandra Bravo and Don Blackowiak, to create opportunities for Peruvian artists to promote their finest craftsmanship. Soon after, they joined the Fair Trade Federation, a membership organisation of businesses who are committed to practising fair trade.

Alessandra said: “I felt the need to give back to my country and stay connected, so Don and I combined our talents and creative juices to provide work for top artists in need. All this while having fun, inspiring and guiding the creation of beautiful, handmade gifts that tell a story.”

Lucuma Designs strives to keep traditional crafts alive by giving artists the opportunity to do what they love. They collaborate closely with approximately 300 artisans within 22 small groups and family workshops throughout Peru (80% being women). Recently, they started working with the native community of Boruca in Costa Rica.

Allesandra said:

“Even though many of our knitters were not able to complete primary school, they tell us how their earnings have provided better nutrition and education for their children. It is rewarding to see that many are already proud parents of college graduates”.



STRIVING TO KEEP TRADITIONAL CRAFTS ALIVE IN PERU

In Peru, the organisation works with women from the Aymara community, an ethnic minority living near Lake Titicaca, on an Andean plateau at 12,500ft above sea level. With a rich, ancestral textile tradition, knitting provides these female farmers with a supplementary income that empowers them to have a greater voice within their households and communities. 

“Even though many of our knitters were not able to complete primary school, they tell us how their earnings have provided better nutrition and education for their children. It is rewarding to see that many are already proud parents of college graduates!”.   

With its sister organisation in Peru, Apumano S.A.C., employing five people on the ground, Lucuma can keep in daily contact with artists to co-ordinate production. They also provide business know-how, free consulting, and interest-free loans as needed.
To measure their impact, they conduct periodic interviews and visit their workshops frequently. Over the years, they have seen
noticeable improvements in many groups. Five years ago, they created an after-school programme through the group leader’s
church to support carvers, which now provides meals for over 300 children in their community.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

In August 2016, we gave Lucuma Designs a Buyer Credit Facility to help them overcome cash flow issues, created by a sales peak between September to November, making it difficult to build stock for the season. With the approved credit, they were able to improve their production management, place advanced orders with their artists, and increase their range of goods. This reduced the number of lost orders due to out-of-stock items during the busiest season.           

Alessandra continued: “Since our beginning, we trained our artist partners to show us only their best quality products. It was tough for them at fist, but thanks to the training, they have managed to grow with us. We have been working together with many of our groups for over 15 years!              

“Today, we see how the market is changing and demanding even more from us and our artists. I suspect even closer collaboration and a focus on meaningful relationships between consumers and artists will be key for the future.”  

Impact of Covid-19

Sadly, the global pandemic has affected all levels of their supply chain, and the strict lockdown restrictions mean that producers cannot even rely on their small amount of secondary income from farming, as many are unable to transport their crops to market due to the government permits required. 

Speaking in July, Lucuma Co-founder Don Blackowiak said: “The Peruvian government has made a special payment to the poorest families, but so far only a single family qualified for this, out of nearly 300 artists who work with us, so we are looking for ways to keep supporting our artists as much as we can. 

“Our gourd carvers have isolated themselves in the village of Cochas and are limiting access to the community. As a result, workshops have been entirely or partially closed since mid-March. Many of the carvers also have fields to attend, and are working on them as they can. 

“However, with the dry season approaching, we worry very much for our artists if they remain unable to work or to transport their goods.” Lucuma is supporting gourd carvers in this isolated village, who are helping to feed the families of their producers through the local church. 

Don said: “We are so proud of this project. We see it as an amazing example of what is possible when fair trade enables a community to help themselves.” 

Gourd carver, Saturnino Velasquez, said: “Thank you very much for your help in favour of needy families in Cochas Chico, Peru. In our area, we are in good health, but our transit is restricted. We have supported many families in these past weeks, and so we have reached the neediest families, and we are planning to help 100 more.

“We cannot do it quickly or on a larger scale due to the difficulty we have in buying products such as rice, sugar, oil and other products, because we do not have the mobility to move from the centre to our area.”

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