In 1994 Jenny Randall accepted a 4 month assignment as a BESO (British Executive Services Overseas) volunteer to work with a group of knitters in Arequipa, in the south of Peru, to help improve the design and quality of alpaca garments they were exporting to the UK. A task for which Jenny's skills, developed in the fashion and textile industry over a period of 30 years, were ideally suited.
It was a rewarding experience. Jenny was impressed by the skills of the knitters, the quality of the alpaca yarn and their willingness to both learn new techniques and to share their own expertise.
The aims of the assignment were met. New designs were developed, quality improved and, as a further benefit, Paola, a young graduate was trained to continue in the role of production and quality control manager.
Jenny returned to the UK and began to explore new markets for the knitwear. In 1997, she joined an established knitwear design company which, in conjunction with Paola, enabled her to develop relationships with further producer groups. Paola is now based in the capital, Lima, where she liases directly with the various groups checking quality and ensuring that the people enjoy suitable working conditions, receive training and fair rates of pay.
In 2002 Jenny started Concepts of Peru to promote a classic range of alpaca knitwear, fashion accessories and homewears. Jenny's daughter Caroline joined Concepts of Peru to help with design development.
Jenny's regular visits to Peru have enabled her to meet numerous groups producing a diverse goods ranging from finger puppets, ceramics and jewellery to greetings cards.
A common theme is that all producer groups are independent, often a family business or cooperative. Many are based in the poorer districts of Lima or Arequipa where unemployment is as high as 80%. Most of the workers live in shantytown areas where houses are self-built with very basic amenities and often built with waste materials. The average family has five children and many are dependant on the mother's earnings.
The development of markets in the UK has resulted in regular work for the producer groups in Peru. As the business has grown, Paola has been able to provide regular employment for various people to assist with the administration and technical aspects of her business. Esau, a knitter with exceptional technical ability, is employed full time to produce samples and provide in-house production. The security of stable employment and a regular income have enabled Esau to buy a plot of land and start building a house for his wife and young daughter.
Concepts of Peru is a Member of British Association for Fair Trade Shops (BAFTS) and is a BAFTS accredited importer.
Roger Randall, Concepts of Peru