It all began in 1988 because of our passion for travel.
Benoit Berho grew up in Southern Chile, home of the fierce Mapuche people who were never conquered by the Spaniards. Mapuches are skilled weavers, and one of our family’s prize possessions is a heavy woolen Mapuche poncho (it still sheds rain)!
Debbie was raised in Oregon. Before she was born, her father raised sheep on a Central Oregon ranch, sheared them himself, and sold the wool to Pendleton Woolen Mills. Her fascination with Latin America and Spanish began at an early age and led to her studying abroad in Costa Rica, where she met Benoit. (Ask us about all that in person ;)!
We married in 1987 and continued our interest in textiles. We began importing hand-knit sweaters in 1988. We started with angora sweaters knit by Benoit’s mother and friends in Chile. Two of Benoit’s brothers married Ecuadorian women, and we traveled to Ecuador to visit them. While there, we visited Otavalo, a town high in the Andes, famous for its colorful “Plaza de ponchos.” We became friends with several Otavalans and soon started importing the beautiful alpaca and woolen items created in this town and neighboring Peguche. We lived in Ecuador during Debbie’s sabbatical (from teaching Spanish) and deepened our knowledge of the country and respect for these crafters.
Success for Women Artisans
Many of the artisans are single women or moms whose sewing or knitting at home allows them to support their families and watch over them at the same time. Doña Rosa told us how she began weaving when she was too small to move the loom shuttle with just her arms, so she would walk it back and forth. Today, though advanced in years, she manages her own store and weaving workshop and employs many women to sew at home, keeping a close eye on the quality of their work.
Long-Term Relationship with Artists
We are so grateful to have a long relationship with hard-working people like doña Rosa & her husband, don José. Many Otavaleños proudly maintain their distinctive traditional dress, as pictured here. Our family visits our suppliers in their homes and shops, knows their families and their stories, and considers them our friends. We have a relationship of trust and fairness. We strive to represent them well, and we pay them the prices they set for their goods. Our handicrafts are imported directly – we’ve learned a bit about shipping and customs over the years! Your purchase assures that we continue doing business with the artisans without any middlemen.
From Slavery to Prosperity
These handicrafts are not only beautiful and unusual, but they also tell a story of success for the people of Otavalo. (Debbie cannot resist explaining this because, after all, she has a degree in Latin American History. 🙂)
The Spaniards forced many native Ecuadorians to work in “obrajes”, a colonial version of a textile sweatshop. The fabric they produced was used by Spaniards all over their empire for hundreds of years. After Independence from Spain, the Ecuadorian people took advantage of their skills for their own benefit, gradually gaining ground. Some of the older crafters remember earning only 1 sucre per day for 8 or more hours of weaving or sewing – that was 1/15th of 1 US dollar in 1950! They now own the means of production – design software, sewing machines, looms, buildings, and trucks for transport – and provide employment for many community members. That is why when you acquire one of their products, you are certain that you are ensuring the livelihood of the creators.
If you understand Spanish, you will enjoy watching these videos of a past generation of Otavalan weavers talking about their craft.
Many of our alpaca-blend couch throws and blankets have traditional designs. Along with our handwoven wool rugs, they look great in Southwestern, Western, cowboy/girl, or boho decor schemes. For other blankets, we collaborate with the makers to create patterns that appeal to our market in the PNW and beyond. People who love the outdoors, mountains, woods, and adventures like our blankets and couch throws featuring horses, Bigfoot (Sasquatch), mountains, and trees.
We are based in Newberg, Oregon, and bring a variety of beautiful alpaca, alpaca-blend, woolen, and cotton textiles and small leather goods from Ecuador to the States. We ship all our products anywhere in the U.S.
You can find us at fairs and events throughout the Northwest. Check our market calendar to see when we are near you!
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from 8 AM to 8 PM, Monday thru Saturday, Pacific Time.