After years of taking a backseat to Western style, indigenous fashion is re-emerging in Ecuador, thanks to a new generation of designers who are re-imagining traditional clothes.
“Make the turn snappy!” says Juana Chicaiza, who founded the modeling agency “Awkis y Nustas” — “Princes and Queens” in the Quechua language. She is teaching her young charges how to best show off the “anaco,” a traditional Andean skirt, on the catwalks.
A former beauty queen with long dark hair, Chicaiza — a member of the Puruha indigenous group — was mocked at a pageant because of her traditional garb.
The experience inspired the 32-year-old to open her agency in 2013 and “strengthen the identity” of the Puruha on the runways, where models now sashay in outfits that mix “the Western and the ancestral”.
Latin American agencies generally seek models with hourglass figures and fine features, the designer said.
“We’re not looking for that,” Chicaiza said. “We’re looking for women with character.”
In Ecuador, indigenous people make up 30 per cent of the population of 16.5 million, according to organisations representing them.
But many inhabitants do not recognise themselves as such: official census records say the country’s indigenous population is just seven percent of the total.
Like Chicaiza, fashion designers are also working to help people renew their pride in their heritage.
Lucia Guillin and Franklin Janeta, who are also members of the Puruha ethnic group, have launched their own indigenous fashion labels — respectively, Churandy and Vispu.
“Our Puruha clothes have disappeared and young people have started dressing in the Western style,” says Guillin, donning one of her own shoulder-baring creations.