Emilime Handcrafted Weaves the Best of Peru With Unique Woolly Designs
Emily Green moved to Lima, Peru in August 2008 to start a business, without a real idea of what it was going to be or how it was all going to work out.
For six months, she worked at a travel agency, getting to know the culture and the country, and keeping her eye out for the right opportunity. She watched closely to to see what Peruvians did best and what made them unique. What she saw was a culture of amazing artisans, and an abundance of amazing quality alpaca wool, but little variety in the goods being produced. It occurred to her that if she could add her fashion design experience to their talent, they could create something really beautiful. But what? Then one night, she remembered a hat with flaps, a chullo, that she had bought on her first visit the prior winter, and the compliments she had received on it back at home. This would prove to be the birth of Emilime Handcrafted, a line of hand-knit natural-fiber hats and bags exported from artisans of Peru -- but that night it was still very much just an idea.
The next morning she started asking around to find where the best knitters in Peru were. She got on busses and traveled to those areas, where she asked again around those towns where the best knitters were. She hopped in taxis to follow the leads, and ended up in the homes and workshops of various talented artisans.
“I was really lucky to find such amazing people to work with.” Emily remembers. “During that first trip I found a group of knitters and a group of weavers that had exceptional work. I was so inspired by the weavings that I saw that I designed a purse line, as well. It was such an amazing journey to arrive somewhere not knowing anything or anyone. It forced me to explore and talk to people and do new things I might not have otherwise.”
Emilime has continued its journey in working with these Peruvian artisans, encouraging them to keep their creativity and traditions alive while at the same time offering a product that is of high quality and unique, and most importantly has an international market. Emily is adamant about her philosophy of transparency and respect. “I try to be as honest as I possibly can and show these artisans that I appreciate them and what they do. Without them, Emilime would not exist,” she explains. “When they feel the respect I give them, they put their good energy in it and want the products to be the best they can be.”
While she admits to making her share of mistakes along the way, Emily is proud of her business’ successes today. Her products are sold in about 20 stores nationwide, which she credits to personally driving to each store, sitting down with the shop owners and telling them her story and the stories of the Peruvian alpaca knitters. “I have tried to reach out to people on the phone or via email, but it doesn't work. You have to have that personal connection,” she says. She’s also looked into other companies’ selling terms and analyzed what might be making it difficult for customers. In a tough business decision, she decided to allow wholesale customers to place small orders, even just one hat in a certain color. Its an important move to get every order and give sellers a low-risk way to try out Emilime. She also drives around the US to make as many trade shows as she can, and maintains a relationship with her producers through regular visits to Peru.
“During these trips, I want to travel to all the different locations where the women are knitting and spend some time with all of them while they are starting to work with the products. I really think this is an important step in the process because it creates that personal connection on this end, too. I really believe that the women put their energy into every product, and I want them to be excited and know that I appreciate them and I am not just some faceless foreign chick exploiting their labor. I want them to feel proud, and I want to be able to tell my customers that a Peruvian woman knit this product and here is her story. Emilime's new line is exceptionally unique, and behind the products there are equally unique stories to be told from these women.”