Manos Del Uruguay started out by modestly selling their woolen textiles at local shops and annual agricultural shows in the capital city of Montevideo. Cecilia Lalanne from Manos says, “Wool is the heart and soul of Manos del Uruguay products.” This is a non-profit organization that began in 1968, now works with some of the most reputable designers such as Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren, Stella McCartney, DKNY, Chanel, Yigal, and many others. They work with over 350 women throughout Uruguay who spin, dye, knit and weave, helping to create stable employment opportunities for those who live in rural areas.
The country of Uruguay is a true gem in South America, and it is known for its quaint villages, rolling green hills, beautiful horse ranches, rocky coastlines and temperate climates. The terrain is not only stunning, but ideal for the growth of lush pastures, which support wool, one of Uruguay’s main exports. The majority of textiles produced throughout the country have been inspired from the gaucho (cowboy) identity, Uruguay's most stereotypical figure. This figure represents the free spirited, unruly horse rider, and has prompted many Uruguayan garments such as ponchos, bombacha (pants) and boots.
Cecilia says, “As knitters, weavers and dyers, women gain confidence and self respect. They are able to hold a career and live in harmony with their family life, while contributing to the landscape and cultural heritage of their country.” She adds, “In rural areas, the majority of men work on cattle ranches, leaving few opportunities for women, therefore they would often fill their time weaving. They would use the leftover wool from the livestock ranches and produce saddle blankets, ponchos and rugs. Now with the help of Manos del Uruguay, fewer families are forced to move to urban areas."
Manos weaves with hand looms, working primarily with wool that they blend with other fibers such as silk, baby alpaca, cashmere, linen, and cotton. Over the years, Manos has been refining their dying process, providing extremely professional color consistency. Their cotton stria has become their trademark, as it is elegantly subdued, and is perfect for textural patterns. Santiago Vera Puglia is the head dyer and is in charge of formulating and devising new colors. He claims to have concocted more than one thousand colors, plus many more custom colors for their international clients. What are his favorite colors? He answers “I prefer neutral colors, from white, sand, beige, to tan. These are the colors from where I live, they give me peace. And then maybe a touch of blue, a very bright one, like Silk Blend 3045 Lapis."
This organization is comprised of 17 cooperatives, each managed as its own business and devoted to one or more artisan technique such as hand spinning, dying, knitting, weaving or felting. Eloina Morales, who is the production manager, says “For me, Manos was like going to the University. I learned to run my Coop, then I integrated the Directing Board, and finally I entered the Production Department acting as a bridge between the Manager and the artisans’ reality. Now, I’m the Production Manager, and have made a career step by step with constant training and growth.”
Manos is widely recognized and sought out for its fine craftsmanship. They believe that their success comes from not only creating a high quality product, but because their products tell a story and show the love and fine work of Uruguayan women.
For more information please visit: www.manos.com.uy