Their workshop is cobbled together from two old houses next to each other. Carmen and Nico live upstairs in part of one. Their office is downstairs and their sampling and finishing rooms are to the side. This is where panels are joined, quality control is done and orders are packed for shipment. They also contract knitting cooperatives outside the factory.
Location . . . South America
Craft . . . Alpaca Textile Design and Production
Years of relationship . . . 15 Founded in . . . 1983
Super power . . . Impervious to Pointless Bureaucratic Hurdles
That Would Destroy Other Mortals
I was connected to this company by a late Swiss friend, Peter Illi, who founded the famous gallery Galeria Latina, in Quito, Ecuador. We used to share contacts to try to help each other, and Peter passed them on to me. In those days each market was isolated from others, so we could help each other without worrying whether it would affect us. As the world grows smaller, so is the length of the knife needed to stab you in the back, and people are a lot more cautious. Peter is gone, unfortunately, but his store in Quito is still the most beautiful crafts store in South America. Well worth a visit if you’re in that city.
Like most South American textile businesses, this one also involves two generations.
Their story began during the political upheavals of the 70’s. Carmen was active in politics, and fled into exile in Italy. There she met Nico, a trained architect. They fell in love, and when things settled down they both moved back to South America, and began their company. Nico does all the designs, and turns out a prodigious amount of new shapes, colors and patterns every year, for both men and women. He kind of amazes me. Whenever I’m there he’s upstairs at his computer, humming and designing. He also paints and writes novels. Carmen is charming, cosmopolitan and seems to have nearly limitless energy.
Carmen’s son Pablo joined them after going to college for filmmaking in Boston. Pablo handles the logistics of the business, and is able to work around, talk his way through or somehow procure every annoying stamp or seal that South American bureaucracy can throw at his company. He manages production, talks to the clients and even sticks labels onto bags of sweaters.
Things we talked about on the last trip: South American literature, the effect of the coca trade on the local economy, the ever-increasing bureaucratic hurdles of importing yarn from Peru, how things work in the Chinese cashmere industry. The Uzi machine gun Pablo bought in high school. (His mother took it away from him.) Pablo took us up to the Valley of the Spirits, a strange beautiful canyon above the city.
Knitting is only the first step of production. After the panels are knit, each piece must be inspected, embroidered (for some styles) have all the loose yarn ends woven back into the structure, and then is ready for joining into a sweater. Add in ruthless quality-control and iron to shape, and your sweater is ready to wear. Times to make a single sweater range from 4 to 18 hours.