Their workshop is in a nondescript section of Lima, across from a small grocery store, an appliance repair shop and sundry other family-scale businesses. Flourescent lights bounce off the hard plaster walls as you climb the stairs. This is a place of work, where no-nonsense fixtures and tables hold carefully crafted knitwear whose complexity is found not just in the knitting, but in the yarn itself.
LOCATION . . . PERU
CRAFT . . . Alpaca Textile Design and Production
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 42, EVENLY DIVIDED BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN
FOUNDED IN . . . 2001 YEARS OF RELATIONSHIP . . . 3
SUPER POWER . . . LOVE OF COLOR AND TEXTURE
Good suppliers are like gold, and finding them is an ongoing adventure. For every five suppliers you meet, you’re lucky if one becomes a long-term business partner. In early days, we literally went through the phone book, or walked the streets looking for stores or even street-sellers that had great knitted goods. We still do, but in Lima, our incredible agent, who knows everyone and everything, took us to meet the people of Ahuayo. We saw right away they were doing something uniquely creative with alpaca.
Like many South American stories, this one starts with a General.
Mariella’s father retired after a career with the Peruvian Armed Forces, and started a business with his brother selling industrial batteries in Lima. Enter the daughter, Mariella. Trained in textile and fashion design in Peru, Germany and Italy, she returned from a stint working for a German knitwear company and began to add sweaters to the mix of car and truck batteries. In 2001, they left batteries behind for good and opened Kero, selling exclusively to Europe and North America. And, yes, the General still comes in to help at the age of 82.
WHAT WE TALKED ABOUT ON THE LAST TRIP:
Shapes of sweaters, types of yarn, possibilities for other styles as we sat around a huge pile of sweaters.
Ahuayo specializes in a very unusual dyeing technique. They start with cones of white yarn of alpaca or pima cotton, and each cone of yarn is carefully unraveled and formed into a 4.5 foot hank circular hank. This hank of yarn is carefully mapped for painting: 3 cm of one color, 5 cm of the next, and so on, until each hank has from 12 to 24 different colors in it. These are painted and allowed to dry in the sun, then washed. Next they are re-coned, and sent to Lima for knitting. There, at the Ahuayo workshop, they are knit on sweater looms, or occasionally, on industrial machines, and then carefully joined by hand, quality-controlled for errors and then ironed into shape.
If that sounds easy, it’s not. If the colors are spaced wrong, they will group up when they are knit and create awkward-looking blotches and shapes, rather than a harmonious even palette. A lot can go wrong during this complicated ancient process. Even more amazing: one sweater may contain up to four different color combinations of space dyed yarns, resulting in dozens of colors!