‘To rescue ancient craftsmanship techniques and to protect the heritage of the masters that guard them.’ This is the mission of Looking For The Masters, an initiative which aims to empower and improve the lives of Colombia’s Wayuu community. Founded by fellow Colombians and CoutureLab Coalition members Alejandro Calderón and Paula Mendoza, the pair recently invited Carmen and Donna Karan to their country to continue the coalition’s work, and last Friday marked the start of a two-week agenda-packed trip to help raise awareness of the value and legacy of this ancestral tribe.
The Wayuu are the original inhabitants of La Guajira, a Colombian department on the Caribbean Sea distinguished by desert landscapes, which borders Venezuela and encompasses most of the Guajira Peninsula. The community, a nation of weavers known for its distinctive Mochila bags, hammocks and blankets, has faced a constant battle across the centuries to keep its traditions alive, and its very existence is now also being threatened by commercialization and climate change.
Calderón, who helps facilitate various high impact projects around climate change and circular economies, and Mendoza, the founder and creator of New York-based brand Paula Mendoza Jewelry who works with Colombian artisans to bring her designs to life, set up Looking For The Masters as means to invest in the creative economy and to protect the country’s heritage. And Carmen and Donna Karan hope that their trip will help kick-start the initiative locally, and continue to raise awareness globally of the need to appreciate, respect and support craftsmanship and communities.
Arriving in Medellin at the end of last week, the capital of Colombia’s mountainous Antioquia province, the pair’s trip coincides with the official opening of Expoartesano, one of the biggest artisanal trade shows in Latin America. Celebrating its tenth edition, this year’s event features 115 indigenous artisans from 20 ethnic groups, and Carmen and Donna were honored to be escorted around the show by the Director of Artisanias de Colombia Ana Maria Fries, and Colombia’s First Lady, Maria Juliana Ruiz.
Following a weekend of press and media opportunities, and further time set aside to spend with the artisans at Expoartesano, the team travelled to Bogota where on Monday, following a lunch with celebrated local designer Johanna Ortiz, Carmen and Donna took part in a panel discussion at the Concordia Americas Summit. The annual summit, organized by the New York-based non-profit, focuses on humanitarian, economic and political issues across the region, as well as those specific to Colombia, and Cecilia Duque, the founder of Expoartesano, Iris Aguilar, leader of the Wayuu community, and Alejandro Calderón also took part.
Also participating in the summit was Colombia’s Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez, who together with her female contemporaries from Costa Rica and Honduras, spoke about the crucial role of women in politics. The Vice President graciously took some time out to meet with Carmen, and the two discussed some of the issues close to Carmen’s heart, including fair trade, sustainability and Venezuelan immigration in the border city of Cúcuta.
On Tuesday, the group travelled to Guajira for a welcome workshop with the Wayuu community, ahead of a more extensive session this morning, where Carmen and Donna will be introduced to the community and its techniques.
Stay tuned for more from Carmen’s Colombia trip next week.