Written by Faye Lessler @sustaininglife
Dana Blair is the founder of Pichinku Fibers, a producer of all-natural, botanically dyed fibers in Cusco, Peru. - and a gang member of Milo Tricot guerilla studio. Dana was working at the Natural History Museum in Pittsburgh when she was offered a job as the director for a Cusco based nonprofit called Threads of Peru - it was the job that led her to Pichinku.
“I wouldn’t be doing anything that I’m doing now if I hadn’t been at Threads. These incredible artisans who invited me into their homes - who I’ve spent so much time with - are the same people who I work with now. I think of myself like a teacher, every student is special but there are always those particularly standout students, and the sisters that I work with now were like that for me. We just had a similar kind of trust and vision, and similar goals.”
Through Pichinku, Dana is determined to provide living wages that are appropriate for the level of skill and time it takes to create a handmade textile, especially when she has seen the market for artisan products expand so much in recent years. The sisters who produce Pichinku’s fibers, Angela, Santusa, and Leonarda, work directly with Dana to set their own fair wages and determine the process for their production.
“ I have a very open and honest communication with the girls and we’ve always worked it out together. Ever since they began working with Pichinku, the girls have gone from living in rural poverty to having the first reliable income of their lives. To think that they were hopping between the few opportunities they had before and then knowing that they are now working three set days a week and having all the benefits involved...that’s really cool. That realization is really when the impact sunk in and I understood that Pichinku is a business, not just a small idea.”
This mission of providing consistent, dignified work for rural women in Peru is what keeps Dana inspired. That, and seeing the incredible demand for what Pichinku produces. The company’s Kickstarter launch was successfully funded in 12 days - raising $31,000 from 400 supporters in over 25 different countries. The continued support for Pichinku keeps the operation growing and dreaming, though Dana does recognize the cottage nature of the artisan textile industry.
“What we do is never going to be industrial, and I wouldn’t want it to be anyway. I’d like to see our growth in terms of becoming a larger impact on the local economy than it is now. I’d like to be able to incorporate my other passions into the business - like environmental conservation through these plants we work with...and also as a place that not only gives work opportunities to women, but also gives them a place to go and seek help and support when they need it.”
Pichinku was founded first and foremost with the purpose of providing more opportunity, creativity, and passion for the lives of its employees and customers alike. Part of Dana’s greater vision is maintaining the ability to enjoy life, and keeping a healthy work-life balance is a huge part of that for her. The mission of Pichinku is decidedly guerilla.
“If you think of guerilla as it’s been applied to guerilla warfare, it’s small groups using what they have - it’s being efficient, picking them off slowly, and not waging a full-on attack. We recognize that this is much bigger than either company, Milo is small, Pichinku is small, but that’s really what guerilla groups are - small people that believe profoundly and passionately in what they do regardless of the status quo. We pick those small battles and take each victory as a reason to celebrate and continue working. I’m not out to change the world by myself, but I would like to change a few minds because each one counts.”
Learn more about Milo Tricot Botanical dyes by Pichinku: BEHIND THE LABEL