Improving the economic empowerment of Mapuche women in Chile while preserving their ancestral culture: this is the role of Relmu Witral, one of the three 2012 winners of the Foundation’s Social Entrepreneurs Awards.
Federating 135 Mapuche women from rural areas in Tirúa at the northern border of Chilean Patagonia, the Relmu Witral association organises and pools the production and marketing of naturally-dyed woven-wool decoration and clothing items. Relmu Witral is fair trade certiﬁed and provides commercial outlets for the handicraft products, facilitates purchases of raw materials for its members, and promotes the use of environmentally friendly processes. For the past ten years, the association has been oﬀering training in traditional weaving along with comprehensive guidance to foster empowerment of the weavers in their homes and community.
Employees’ commitment to the benefit of Relmu Witral
Relmu Witral has faced major challenges, such as ensuring the proﬁtability of its two shops or suﬃcient production levels. Relmu Witral, mentored by a Volcom employee, is now working to define a new marketing and distribution strategy. This partnership has led to the successful production of a « Give Back Series » collection of 1,200 co-branded fair trade certiﬁed beanies.
Following the identification of a material need for the cooperative, Relmu Witral also welcomed groups of volunteers to build workshops for the weavers. In partnership with Coup de Pouce humanitaire, six Kering employees took a solidarity leave in Tirua for two weeks in 2013 and 2014. A new mission will be organized in 2015 to continue the work started by the two first teams!
Miriam Espinoza Lopez, in charge of marketing at Relmu Witral :
Tell us about the creation of Relmu Witral?
Before, the Mapuche women sold their wool-woven items door to door in the town, oft en at cut-rate prices. Yet weaving one Mapuche item is a very meticulous work! The contrast between hard work and low prices has caused women to abandon the art of weaving. In 2003, in an attempt to prevent their ancestral craft from disappearing, some Mapuche women decided to join forces and try to sell their products together, thus the Relmu Witral association (meaning “rainbow loom”) was born.
How has the support of the Foundation helped you?
Thanks to the Social Entrepreneurs Award’s ﬁnancial grant we recruited a volunteer to improve our production and sales planning. We also received the mentoring of a Volcom manager on our marketing strategy. Last but not least, the Kering Foundation helped us link up with the NGO Coup de pouce to organise solidarity missions. Last summer, we hosted 36 volunteers, including ﬁve Kering employees, to build workshops for six weavers, thereby improving their working conditions.