With Ancelma and Julian in Tarisquia, from the Mollo Culture
"The textiles of the Bolivian Andes have an unbroken chain of handcraft that has been passed from generation to generation for thousands of years."
Hermanas from the Mollo Culture
Ponchos Rojas is a design and fashion brand dedicated to the preservation of weaving traditions in the high Andes. The textiles of the Bolivian Andes have an unbroken chain of handcraft that has been passed from generation to generation for thousands of years, and it is now in danger of being lost forever with the push for modernization. By upcycling vintage pieces and working with Bolivian communities to create new works, founders Ana Catalina Rojas de Merkel and Greg Merkel hope to create a broad market appeal worldwide and drive a new economy for Bolivian textiles.
Ponchos Rojas has also created a non-profit company, Ponchos Libres, where proceeds from their sales will go back directly to the local Bolivian communities and further help protect the treasure that is the art of Bolivian Textiles. Through programs that focus on preserving weaving traditions and teaching new generations, they aim to get the younger generations interested and involved and keep this artform alive.
Collaborating with them is Claudia Torrico, a fashion curator based in New York who also serves on the board of Ponchos Libres.
Ponchos Rojas is currently working with four different communities in different regions of Bolivia. Each community specializes in different types of weavings and techniques.
The vibrant community from the ancient Mollo Culture, located north of La Paz, in the province of Munecas, predates the Inca civilization, and are thought to be the direct descendants of the Tiwanaku civilization.
The Mollo culture existed in Bolivia's altiplano area after the collapse of the Tiwanaku culture during the period of AD 700 to 1500, predating the Inca civilization. While the Mollo showed a continuity with late Tiwanaku culture in both domestic and village architecture, they left no pyramids, however the ruins of Iskanwaya meaning 'two houses' in Quechua, are believed to have been the epicenter of the Mollo culture. It was a citadel of great importance due to its strategic location, and because its inhabitants were able to build agricultural terraces and even developed a hydraulic system. The trapezoidal shape, an esoteric symbol, is repeated in throughout the ruins, and according to some archaeologist, the shape is linked to the "Katachillay" The Southern Cross, a constellation always present in the southern hemisphere, and part of the Andean culture where not only the sun and the moon were worshiped, but also the stars and the planets. If we draw an imaginary line connecting the four stars of this constellation, we will observe a trapezoidal shape, probably the source of inspiration for the Mollo. This shape is also found throughout the Inca empire ruins, thus creating a direct correlation with the Mollo culture.
Mollo weavers have a rich tradition of embroidered and woven fabrics and are well known for their triangular patterns representing rivers, mountains, and stars, aswell as their detailed embroideries that capture both the sacred and everyday symbols of life. Their skilled work was at such a high level, that they were part of the weavers for the Inca royalty.
Also, they have been working with the weavers from Livichuco located in the province of Avaroa, in Oruro. In Livichucho the community has managed to preserve the ancestral knowledge in its production of textiles. The traditional production of their textiles is still going strong, despite time and implementation of new technologies.
They take great care in creating their products from begin to end. In that sense they start with the raw fibers from the alpacas, llamas and sheep herds that they raise and care for. The wool is then washed cleaned and hand spun, to then be dyed with plants and insects, such as the thola, lampaya and cochinilla.
The typical loom used in Livichuco is the pampa away, which is a 4 stake ground loom that is used to weave the llijllas or aguayos (square shawl made of two hand woven strips joined edge to edge, it's a multipurpose weave used to carry babies, food or just about anything, taris ( smaller that the llijlas and used to carry coca leaves or food) and table runners.
and to add finishing touches to the textiles, they use a back-strap loom to weave the the awakipa or chinchilla that can be represented in different designs. They are believed to be the eyes of protection, or seeds of life that not only protects the edges of the textile but also the person that owns the textile.
In Potosi, they have had the chance to work with two communities so far, Marcavi and Turqui, from the province of Tomas Frias.
These two communites specialize in natural alpaca and llama wool. Their textiles are woven on pedal looms and the type of weave is a bayeta (baize).
Also - check out our sister brand at Flying Merkel Inc.
Greg, Cata and Tiburcio in Livichuco
Doña Maria from Livichuco
Gabriela from Marcavi