Their workshop is a walled garden on the outskirts of a provincial city. The garden is full of fruit trees: bananas, mangoes, papayas, avocados. There are palm trees, a pool, dogs, small children running around. Interspersed with that are various small warehouses, knitting rooms and women calmly at work, often outside in the fresh air. It’s peaceful, green and paradisiacal: by far the most beautiful workplace of all our suppliers. Jester and Nicole live in this garden with their two daughters.
Owned by: Nicole and Jester Location: Bolivia Number of Employees: 30, most of whom have been at the company for 20 years or more. Craft: Alpaca Knitwear Design and Production Years of Relationship: 5 Founded in 1983 SUPER POWER: TRANQUILITY
HOW WE MET
One of our old suppliers had retired, and as an excuse to visit him we decided to check some other suppliers in that city. To our surprise, we liked what we saw.
NICOLE AND JESTER'S STORY
Like most South American textile businesses, this story involves two generations.
Initially, the company was started in the 1980’s by a Dutchman who came to live in Bolivia, fell in love, and needed to make a living. They couple started a sweater company and ran it for many years. Their daughter went to Holland to study fashion design, met a Dutchman, fell in love, and they repeated the entire process by moving back to Bolivia to take over the company. I have little doubt that one of their two small daughters will one day go to Europe, meet a Dutchman and … well, you know.
THINGS WE TALKED ABOUT ON OUR LAST TRIP: THE BOLIVIAN REVOLUTION (STILL IN ITS AFTER-EFFECTS AT THAT MOMENT). BUSINESS CONDITIONS DURING AND AFTER THE UPHEAVALS. KITEBOARDING AND SNOWBOARDING. THEIR RASPBERRY PATCH. ARTICHOKES. OUR CHILDREN.
THE CRAFT: ALPACA DESIGN AND PRODUCTION
When you’re running a global export business in the hinterlands of a third-world country, you have to be pretty self-sufficient. Yarn must be imported and is subject to unexpected production delays or Customs snafus. Bureaucracy is quicksand, and costs are very high, and if you run out of one color of yarn, or buttons, or zippers, you cannot easily replace them. Nicole does all the design, and they specialize in extremely complicated asymmetrical patterns which are difficult to knit and gorgeously unique. They are a very special company with a tiny production.
The process is work-intensive before the knitting even begins. First, if the yarn is combined from two different colors, they must be plied together one cone at a time. Sweaters require 1-4 days to knit, depending on the complexity, by highly skilled knitters. After that, it takes another 1-2 days for the armadora, another specialized worker, to tuck the tails of the yarn into the fabric so that they are invisible. Joining the pieces together into a sweater is done on a special linking machine, which takes an hour or two. Finally, the sweater is washed, ironed and quality controlled. In total, the most complex sweaters can take more than six days of full-time labor to produce, and that labor is by experts.