Ambassador Travelogue: Meant to Be in Peru
Our Ambassador Travelogue series continues as Tiffany Lasher describes how one little moment led her to the adventure of a lifetime: a trip to visit Noonday’s Artisan Partners in Peru. Read on to discover how this moment has changed her life – and how you can join us in building a flourishing world where we are all connected!
Sometimes in life, a single moment can be the catalyst for change in your life. And if you’re lucky, occasionally you can pinpoint it. For me, it all started with an image: a snapshot of toes and a passport to be exact. About a year ago, an old friend from high school posted about her impending Ambassador trip to Guatemala; and yes, included a pic of her toes, her passport, and Noonday’s Dhaka Woven Bag (if I’m being detailed).
Perhaps it was perfect timing, or perhaps it was simply one of those things that has no explanation and falls effortlessly into a ‘meant to be‘ catch-all bin; but this single photo re-ignited the exact spot of my brain responsible for adventure. An area temporarily under construction with two little ones taking up all available brain space. What was my friend an Ambassador for? What was in Guatemala? I absolutely yearned to know more. A few emails and phone calls later, and I knew. I may have fallen in lust with the image and lure of travel, but I had fallen in love with the company and mission behind it all.
Enter: Noonday Collection
I joined Noonday Collection as an Ambassador in July, 2015. I had never been to a Trunk Show, and the nearest Noonday Ambassador was hundreds of miles (literally states) away. I didn’t take time to perform a proper risk benefit analysis, or pro/con T chart. I listened to my heart, which told me this was something I just had to be part of. I jumped in blind. Did you hear that? I put on my big girl pants and declared myself a world changer. Somehow this business that uses fashion to create meaningful opportunities around the world was allowing me, a stay-at-home mama of two, to find herself again. They say giving is better than receiving- and let me tell ya, advocating for our Artisan Partners by creating a marketplace where their beautiful pieces can be sold has meant more to me than just that euphoric feeling of giving to others. It’s been my privilege. My pleasure really, to elevate the voices of people who have felt voiceless.
I decided the day after my very first Trunk Show that I had to meet our Artisan Partners. I’ve always been a traveler and I craved the life changing experience of storytelling with strangers turned friends. My desire to make a difference was, after all, the reason I became a Noonday Ambassador. I did the math, and I promptly drafted a goal list (I’m a list maker, a note keeper, and a word hoarder), because when you write it down, it becomes fact, yes? I’ll spare you the details of late night Trunk Shows in the snow, complications from my oldest’s tonsillectomy, and a husband away for work. I’ll share the happy ending instead: by early December I had qualified for an Ambassador trip. WHAT?! Somehow I had pulled it off. If anything was ever meant to be, it was this. OK deep breaths…
Once the shock of my upcoming adventure had subsided, it was time to get to know the fifteen other world changing women I’d be traveling with. Women who, just like me, had taken a leap of faith to be a part of something bigger than themselves. And well, we just happen live in an era where socializing via the interwebs is our modern day cultural norm. Within minutes of our trip placement being announced, we all joined a Facebook group and the rest is history. Everyone immediately feels connected to strangers you just met online, right? That’s the beauty of this tribe- we all share some common thread that connects us, that brought us to this exact point in life. One Fun Fact Friday after the next and we had become a single story telling whole. The time had come…
Saddle up ladies, we’re going to PERU!
First Stop: Lima
From the moment we arrived it was evident that Peru is a country rich in cultural history. Here our group visits the Amano Textile Museum in Miraflores. Ancient Peruvians did not keep a written history, and therefore textiles became the main way of symbolizing and preserving everything about their culture and way of life. The patterns and designs we were lucky enough to view absolutely transcend time, and could be found on a modern duvet at Anthropologie, or the latest Noonday bag. And to think everything we saw was made by hand, using many of the same techniques still in practice today. What a treat this was! We were all very much in our happy place here.
(Photo credit: Kate Halaris)
Later that day we visited one of the Artisan Businesses responsible for knitting many of our alpaca scarves and arm warmers. We received a crash course in culture, humility, and survival as a band of Artisans tried to teach us all to knit (insert humility here). At one point I recall looking up and taking in the scene: each Artisan was paired up with two or three Ambassadors, and all eyes were fully engrossed in the task at hand. Every one of us was communicating through hand gestures and broken Spanish, but the outcome was downright poetic. They were teaching us their craft.
(Photo credit: Joanna Wang)
(Photo credit: Jennifer Frey)
One of the women struck a chord with us all. With hesitation sweet Hermona shared that her parents had passed away when she was one. The new family who took her in did not value educating women. She began knitting at a very young age, and knew all the stitches by memory early on. When she was older she saw an opportunity for work in a knitting circle and literally made her own knitting needles out of tree branches she ripped down. This woman was determined to survive.
That day I learned that these women knit with love. The pride they have for their craft is unrivaled. It’s not just work for them, but therapy really. You see, knitting is a communal activity. They knit together, and in doing so they can forget how tough life can be. For these Artisans, knitting provides companionship, creates shared experiences, and allows many to overcome. In other words, the exact description of one of Noonday’s pillars: we are better together.
(Photo credit: Analisa Jernigan)
The next day our journey took us outside of Lima where there was no mistaking the extreme poverty of the area. Here we met Luis, part of another Artisan Business that focuses primarily on alpaca knitwear. Luis relayed that ‘fair trade used to be old people. Now so many of our younger generations want to take part in this social movement.’ I agreed with Luis’ assessment. The next generation is ready to take part. And we cannot wait to share these stories and beautiful handmade goods with everyone we know.
Here I was able to gift Efigenia with a special heart handmade by refugees living in my area as a way for them to earn an income. How sweet and grateful she was; and what strength she projects. I wish she lived closer- I’d love to get to know her more. For me, being a Noonday Ambassador is not simply about selling more fair trade items, but helping to create better livelihoods for incredible artists like Efigenia.
Speaking of livelihoods, one of the Artisans I met in Lima had the sweetest little daughter, Lucy, playing right by her side as she worked. In terrible Spanish I asked her if she liked Minnie Mouse (her shirt was a giveaway), and in her three year old voice I heard a long and wordy reply, but somehow picked out ‘Me gusta Elsa’. Now, if you’ve ever been forced to endure ‘Let It Go’ on repeat by your four year old, you know she’s referring to Disney’s Frozen. Lucy’s love of Elsa only served as a reminder that we are all connected in some way. Children’s love for fairytales and happy stories is universal, whether your mama is a CEO or a knitter for a living. I am so thankful and humbled that Lucy’s mama has a job in an area where so many simply don’t.
A quick bus ride and sack lunch later (jamon y queso wrap anyone?), and we had landed at Fermin’s impressive metal working shop, which just happens to be on the fourth floor of his sturdy yellow home.
I must say, I was blown away by the Artisans working here. The pieces they craft are truly a labor of love. Every cut, every marking, every part of every accessory is all hand crafted, with absolute pride. While sharing a few of their stories, one young girl relayed she used to take care of Fermin’s children years ago, and then began working in his shop to earn a better income. A few Artisans had even left (because the lure of greener grass is often part of life in your youth), but quickly realized the income and working conditions at Fermin’s workshop far exceeded whatever else they had found. In a town of dusty streets, Fermin’s shop has the greenest grass around. What a joy it was to meet this man providing for so many. Here are a few pics of Fermin, his workshop, and view of the surrounding area.
See you next time, Lima.
Second stop: Ayacucho
So you’re saying our crew of world changing Ambassadors will be flying across the world’s longest continental mountain range, and this is our ride?
(Photo credit: Lindsley Grebenik)
Hello, Andes. The view in air wasn’t breathtaking or anything.
Look at that blue sky. We have arrived!
Whereas Lima opened my eyes, Ayacucho stole my heart. Known as the ‘Capitol of Folk Art and Crafts of Peru’, this sunny little town is a diamond in the rough. From our greeting with roses at the airport to a gelateria as the entrance to our quaint hotel on the main square, once again all things seemed meant to be in coming to Ayacucho.
Exploring the streets and enjoying a photo bomb with the locals. (Photo credit: Lindsley Grebenik)
Our first stop in Ayacucho was to visit Faustino and Mercedes, the proud founders and owners of the Artisan Businesses Hilos y Colores, translated literally to Threads and Colors. This group is ‘dedicated to rescuing, preserving, and promoting ancestral Peruvian textiles and techniques.’ Remember our visit to the textile museum in Lima? Well this group actively weaves, embroiders, knits, crochets, and sews high quality products that speak to the traditional designs we saw at the museum, but also manage to flatter all modern trends.
Even at some of the markets in Peru, you could tell the difference between handcrafted Artisan goods such as products by Hilos y Colores, and those that were factory made. Our global marketplace is often saturated with mass produced goods, made out of synthetic and sometimes hazardous materials. It’s refreshing to find a group like H&C that proudly make their natural products by hand. Here Lucas shows us how he dyes all of the yarn and how he created his own system to bundle each color. UH-mazing.
From threads to finished product. So beautiful. (Bottom left photo credit: Kate Halaris)
Could these two ladies from the Noonday Home Office be any cuter? (Photo credit: Lindsley Grebenik)
Our very own Pom Queen. (Photo credit: Lindsley Grebenik)
Oh and their boss, Faustino? Starting with his very own mama, he makes empowering women a cornerstone of his business. In a culture that often heralds the ‘machismo’ way of thinking, he is at the forefront for the opposite mindset. He allows women to bring their babies to work and does whatever he can to keep them working, which includes his partnership with Noonday. And his wife Mercedes? She’s his equal of course. Swoon, Faustino. Swoon.
Here, one of the Artisans shares that the Indian bracelet she received as a gift from Noonday was the first she’d ever been given. She has four children and totes her littlest everywhere, including when she’s working. Such a kindred spirit she was.
With our fill of threads, colors, and a whole lot of heart, our Peruvian journey continued two hours away up a curvy mountain road to a clearing by the river. A location that, I assure you, could not be inputted into Google Maps. It was here that fifty Quechuan women had congregated to meet and share stories with our Noonday tribe of world changers. We were told several of them had walked three to four hours to get there. Often carrying their embroidery projects on their backs, in the same carrier that once held a child, they kept their work close.
Although at times the language barrier made communication difficult, we had two translators on hand to assist with our conversations (from Quechuan to Spanish, and then Spanish to English), and the day was simply enchanting. Through the universal language of children’s laughter, we were all connected that afternoon by the river. Talk about an experience you’ll never forget.
So, there you have it. A little tale about a dynamic group of women doing their part to help change the world (and I didn’t even get to talk about the ceviche and Pisco sours!). Who would have thought less than a year after jumping in blind, I’d be traveling the world with this absolutely amazing Peru Crew? I never did, that’s for sure. One thing I know is this, I’ve always loved telling stories, and this trip has fully stocked my adventure arsenal with loads of tales to last a lifetime.
Because at the end of the day, we all have a story, and we all want to be heard. My work with Noonday means I’m connected to Artisans all over the world. Connected by threads, colors, and the same desire to create a flourishing world. I’m so proud to share Hermona’s story. Lucy’s story. Efigenia’s story. Fermin’s story. Faustino’s story. My story. And in the process of telling those stories, we’re changing lives.
Might you suggest it was happenstance that I qualified for the trip, was chosen for Peru, and was paired with this exact group of Ambassadors and trip leaders turned life long friends? Nope. I say it was all meant to be.
(Photo credit: Joanna Whitely)
Here’s to next year, ladies. I simply cannot wait.
Want to travel with us next year? Launch your Ambassador business and you could earn a trip to visit our Artisan Partners across the globe!