Wool with a name
John Lennon wore Manos del Uruguay, and among its current fans are a number of celebrities and even royalty. All Manos products are signed by the woman who dyed the wool, and each product is handcrafted and therefore unique.
Launched by a group of five women 50 years ago, this non-profit organisation now provides work for 250 female artisans in Uruguay, and their products are highly sought after on the international market.
Employing rural women
Manos del Uruguay aims to create employment for women in rural areas, and thus provides economic, social and cultural opportunities while promoting their arts and crafts. Manos is committed to saving water and using natural resources, and avoiding chemicals which harm the environment.
The organisation has been working with Oikocredit since 2009. Shortly after, it was certified as a fair-trade organisation by the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO).
Both the head office and the sales department are in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital, where some 90 employees work. Garments, as well as batches of wool are produced to order, keeping the workers’ risks to a minimum. The Manos del Uruguay head office delivers the raw materials to the women’s homes where they can be dyed.
A women’s cooperative
Manos del Uruguay began life in the eastern Uruguayan town of Fraile Muerto in 1968, when rural women formed associations in order to improve their families’ livelihoods.
At present, 13 cooperatives work for Manos at 19 different locations. At the same time, they are the owners of the organisation and are represented in both the management and on the board of directors. They dye and dry high-quality wool, weave fabrics and knit sweaters, ponchos and other garments for international labels.
Patricia Sosa, Blanca Rodriguez, Janet Novo and Valeria Marti live in Fraile Muerto. They are members of CARF, one of the cooperatives that works for Manos del Uruguay.
Before joining CARF, these women made a living from farming, cleaning houses or looking after other people’s children. Their husbands had office jobs or worked out of town, mainly on large farms. Their lives soon changed after they became members of CARF.
CARF provided the women with practical training, and they now earn more than they ever did before. What is more, CARF is flexible when it comes to combining work with looking after children. The cooperative has taught them important skills such as administration, business management, social skills and teamwork. All members are proud of their own development and of the work that they have accomplished.
Four women workers. Four stories.
Patricia likes dyeing wool. She would like to use her earnings to buy a small car and explore Uruguay. Patricia is married with three children. Her eldest son is studying in Montevideo to become an accountant, while her daughter is about to leave home to go to university. This means that her youngest son will soon be the only child still living at home. For Patricia, the most important thing is that all her children complete their education.
Blanca is responsible for production and export at CARF. She wants to see her children do well in life. As for herself, she wants to work for Manos del Uruguay until she retires. She would also like to travel and learn more about her native country.
This is something that craftswoman Janet has already been able to do in her role as director of CARF and as a member of Manos del Uruguay’s board of directors. She also wants to continue working for Manos and eventually enjoy her retirement.
For Valeria, the youngest of the four women, retirement is still a long way off. Valeria works in quality control. Every Monday and Tuesday, Valeria studies in Melo with the aim of becoming a physics teacher; this is possible thanks to CARF’s flexible working hours. Once she becomes a qualified physics teacher, she will leave the cooperative because she won’t be able to do both. But she’ll always be happy to help out when needed.
Manos del Uruguay’s remarkable success story is reflected in the lives of each individual member of the cooperatives. They work as a team, but all have their own dreams and ambitions.