Almost a year ago we were approached by V2_ to do a Summer Sessions project. Right now that has brougt us to Manchay in Peru. Manchay is an agglomeration of informal settlements on the outskirts of Lima, the capital of Peru, where it never rains. We are sleeping over at Carmen's house. Carmen is mother of three children, but also finds the time to work as a cleaning lady from 9 to 5, to run a shop that sells drawing equipment, guinea pigs and chickens, and of course be our lovely host. On the wall are the diplomas of her oldest son. Maybe he will be the first of her family to get a college degree.
Although in the more upscale neighborhoods of Lima the first signs of separated trash bins are starting to show, there is still much to do to get people to take care of their environment. In Lima's growing economy more people are reaching middle class status. Therefore rates of consumption are going up and also the creation of waste has gone up. That is why LOOP (life out of plastic) was founded about 4 years ago and has been organizing amongst others beach cleanups. They were the first organization we got in touch with in order to see how we could exchange our knowledge on making products from plastic waste.
But while the people lack environmental awareness there is no lack of sense to make money from plastic waste. The poorer communities actively collect plastic that they are able to sell through various informal channels. However, these systems are not enough to prevent plastic from becoming an environmental hazard. The real change will be brought about when the poorest of the people are empowered to make more money from the plastic waste than they previously could. This is the kind intervention we sought out to make with the project and why LOOP connected us with Ruwasunchis, a social enterprise that develops projects for vulnerable communities.
We zoomed in on their program called Tejedoras Urbanas (urban weavers) in which women get together to learn weaving from each other and where they get workshops to stimulate their entrepreneurship. If we could get them to weave products from plastic this would be the perfect combination of combining our know-how with local capacity.
But can you weave with plastic anyway? We also didn’t know this before we started. With a bit of googling however we soon found out that in Brazil there is actually a large movement that uses the same techniques to make products. (see this youtube clip). Although Brazil is Peru's neighbor, there is a world of difference: both language and vast distances between cities separates them. So yes, it is possible to weave with plastic and no it hadn’t been done before in Peru.
But youtube videos only go so far. As a designer you need to get your hands dirty. You do not just design with your head, actually mostly with your hands, if want to do it better also with your heart, and if you want to do it right you include everything. We had done a layman’s effort at making some samples, before we actually did a workshop with an experienced weaver in the Netherlands. We learned a few tricks of the trade and also that weaving is mostly doing. Besides that there is an enormous inventory of ways to weave something, some more time consuming then the other. We felt that somehow these handcrafted works held higher value over industrial goods although those values seem less appreciated by consumers nowadays, seeing as we look for disposable items that we can replace with the latest and greatest.