Creative collaboration with indigenous women in Peru helps preserve and protect the Amazon.
Peruvian-born clothing designer Violeta Villacorta has focused on sustainable design since 1993. The MOCA Geffen Museum in Los Angeles has showcased her signature eco-clothing collection, and she has dressed luminaries in music and film. With ORG by vio, Villacorta combines her love for design, hand-crafted adornment, the environment and indigenous culture by working in collaboration with Amazonian rainforest artisans.
“Although I adopted a green consciousness early in my personal and professional life,” says Villacorta, “it was no longer enough to create earth-friendly goods or live ‘green.’ I was moved to incorporate my values and skills in work with indigenous Amazon communities—especially women.”
Villacorta became involved with Amazon Watch (amazonwatch.org) back in 2000 because she wanted to work with communities affected by extractive industries such as gas, oil, timber and gold mining. Amazon Watch has been working to protect the Amazon Basin and indigenous rights for more than two decades. Executive Director and Founder Atossa Soltani is a “primary inspiration,” and Villacorta continued to contribute financially to the organization when she accepted a role as senior designer at Patagonia, a position she held for six years.
Through ORG by vio, Villacorta shares tools that allow indigenous women to maintain their traditions while creating income and livelihoods. She works hand in hand with the artisans, in person and virtually, emailing sketches and designs for collaborative projects and featuring their original works on her website and others.
In 2010, Villacorta began working on creative artisan projects with the Cofán or A’i people native to the Napo Province in northeast Ecuador and southern Colombia, whose ancestral land, community health and social cohesion have been severely damaged by several decades of oil drilling. In 2011, she visited the Awajún community in Peru and began collaborating with women artisans who create jewelry and accessories from seeds and other plant fiber materials.
Blending elements from multiple cultures to create a look she calls “bohemian chic,” Villacorta loves the use of seeds from Amazon jungle plants as well as plant fibers, managed wood and other plant materials. She is also looking forward to working with natural tree rubber.
The versatile ORG by vio collection can be worn with a wide variety of looks—from jeans and a shoulder-baring top to simple, elegant ensembles by designers such as Eileen Fisher or edgy super-stylers such as Stella McCartney.
The beads she uses are actually seeds from flowering plants, bushes, trees and vines native to the Amazon rainforest. “The plant world—and jungle even more so—is all about the spirit of abundance, so it is a designer’s paradise,” Villacorta says. “When you’re looking for colors and shapes and sizes to work with, there’s never a lack of choices.”
As ORG by vio projects grow and thrive, Villacorta is witnessing something rare and remarkable. “The young people are hungry for their roots,” she says. “They want to learn everything about their traditional artistry. And while they learn they’re also exposed to other precious traditional cultural concepts like shamanism and plant spirit, and they want to learn that too. More and more, they want to learn about the way of the jungle.”
Though Peruvian-born, Villacorta is still considered “foreign”—thus suspect—and must rely on complex, convoluted channels of introduction when searching for ethnic tribal partners. Her big heart, intelligent sincerity, and focus on collaborative-based progress has opened many doors.
Despite the challenges, she remains passionate. “When we align ourselves with our true purpose, all the pieces fall into place effortlessly and the real work begins,” she says. “I believe that the cooperation of people is an indispensable element of building sustainability and creating powerful opportunities and partnerships around the world.”