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The ‘slow fashion’ brand that helps Peruvian women

Words by Smiley Team

Elena Brook-Hart Rodriguez worked in advertising before the pandemic, but her heart wasn’t really in it. She was stressed, and realised her values didn’t align with the work she was doing. “That’s when I started thinking about quitting my job,” she says. “I thought about volunteering, to give me time to think about what I wanted to do and use my skills in a better way.” 

She searched and found a programme to do volunteering to work with women in rural communities in Peru. It wasn’t long after starting the programme that Covid hit – the organisation shut down, and she was told to return home. But she didn’t want to.

“I thought, well, I came here to support people. I’m here now, and these women will have nothing now the volunteering project is closing down,” she says. “So I decided to stay.”

Elena spoke to the women and suggested they could work together on a project that would give work to them, as well as building a brand with a purpose. It wasn’t easy, and took months of hard work, but Elena’s brainchild – Handmade Stories, which is quality clothing that improves the lives of the people who make it and keeps traditional practices alive – launched in April 2021.

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It has always been in the back of Elena’s mind that she wanted to create a business that helped people.

When she found herself in Peru during the pandemic, she realised it was the ideal time – she could help these women, using their skills of weaving, to build a business. “I thought, maybe I could ask them to weave textiles, and I could incorporate that into clothing,” she says. “I took the idea to them and they loved it.”

There were a lot of logistics to sort out before she could do ahead. She wanted to make sure the women were paid fairly, as well as ensuring there were patterns they could do that could work on the clothes. Once they agreed on designs – some were more complicated than others – Elena started looking at clothes and how she could incorporate the designs into them. She went to the capital, in Lima, to find a factory that was family-run and treated their workers fairly. “It all had to be fairly made, she says. “And then I needed to find someone who was willing to help me with the designs, too.”

This took several months to find, but Elena managed to find a factory to work with. Once the women had started weaving the designs, Elena began building the website. She collected the weaved designs for the women when they were ready, and took them to the factory to incorporate into beautiful designs – dresses, jumpsuits, and more. 

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And finally, in April 2021, Handmade Stories launched. The site is full of beautiful clothes, with unique weaved patterns on them, as well as homeware, accessories and jewellery. 

“The women in Peru love it,” she says. “We’re still in touch. They call me and see it as a project we can work on for years together. They’re so happy. It’s been so tough for them with Covid, so this project really has been good for everyone.”

One of the women, called Mercedes, who is 78 years old and has eight children and more than 10 grandchildren, told Elena: “I have woven a lot but I didn’t have anywhere to sell my products, so I gifted them to my grandchildren. 

“Thanks to you, I can work and I can get an income, thank you for supporting us in these times. My grandmother taught me how to weave and it’s my heritage.”

Find out more about Handmade Stories and see the products on the website

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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