From our beloved Ayacucho arises one of the Peruvian craft enterprises that has managed to increasingly position itself in the international market: this enterprise is Sumaq Qara, a Quechua word that means "beautiful leather".
Sisters Elile, Katia and Yuli Torres Garcia are the creators of this brand, whose products have conquered several locations, the first being the United States. The brand took off in 2006 after winning the Exhibe Peru contest, sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism (Mincetur), at which point they formalized their company and began to export.
A few days after being represented for the thirteenth time at Peru Moda, Yuli Torres spoke with Brand Peru to tell us about the evolution of Sumaq Qara and how, alluding to the concept of this year's fair 'Believe to be sustainable', her brand helps to conserve the environment.
How did Sumaq Qara come about?
My father was a craftsman, he worked with leather and sold it as a raw material. There were always scraps, and when playing we made bracelets and sold them at school. After a few years living in Lima, the Belgian Cooperation arrived in Ayacucho and began to organize the women so that all those who had suffered violence (terrorism) would return; we returned and decided to do something for the people who lost everything.
What did you do?
We formed an association in Ayacucho starting with 4 people, we did everything and, little-by-little, it grew. In 2006, thanks to the Mincetur contest, Exhibe Peru, we saw an opportunity and participated with our ecological leather, we won and that was our opportunity to take off. That was in July; in November, we formalized as a company and no longer worked as an association. In February of the following year we were exporting to the United States - it was for three thousand dollars and for us it was like, 'wow!' - and that's when we really took off.
How does it feel to transmit your knowledge to Peruvian women, and that, thanks to that, they can start their own ventures?
In Ayacucho everyone is an embroiderer: from when we are small we know how to embroider. There is such an abundance of techniques there that we said to them, "look, if you know how to do this, then you can do this", and many of the women who have worked with us have since formed their associations; we work with them as well. For us it is a sense of pride, we are extremely happy that it has turned out this way because they can grow with their family.
What materials do you usually deal with?
All our raw material is natural. We started with sheep, the leather we tanned was sheepskin because it is what we have most of in Ayacucho and because of the softness of this skin. We work with sheep's wool, merino wool which is the finest, and with alpaca and cotton: always natural fibers.
Yuli Torres, who stopped practicing psychology in order to fully devote herself to Sumaq Qara, explained that the United States is the most accessible market for them thanks to the Free Trade Agreement; they also export to Canada, Europe, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries.
Torres also said that participating in the various fairs organized by PromPeru has served them well in helping them reach various markets.
"I travel in January or February to the New York Big Show, where we envision the design because we do product development with them; then they come to Peru Moda and we close; but there are also new clients that PromPeru brings and it provides an excellent opening for us," emphasizes the businesswoman.
The concept of Peru Moda this year is 'Believe to be sustainable', how does Sumaq Qara play its part in taking care of the environment?
We start with a raw material theme that is totally natural. What we have done with some clients is to work on the packaging: they asked us for individual bags, but we now increase their awareness and propose master bags or boxes. The packaging issue meant a lot of bags, but we don't buy that many anymore. Regarding our production, we always buy environmentally friendly dyes and use natural products.
I see your biggest market is abroad
For Sumaq Qara, 90% of production is export, of which 60% is attributable to the United States. The remaining 10% is represented by our sales in the Larco Museum and in the store we have opened, because there are Peruvian customers who recognize quality and demand that we have a space.
Why do you think they prefer Peruvian products abroad?
With the experience that I've acquired from traveling and observing, they compare us with other countries such as India, Mexico and Guatemala, but not even Mexico uses the amount of stitching that Peru does. Our technique is so rich that no one else has it.
In terms of costs it is impossible to compete with them, but, in terms of quality, Peru has an extraordinary labor force. When the customer starts familiarizing himself with the product he realizes the quality of the labor that we have. Peru is increasingly positioning itself in the international market. For example, the stands this year in Germany were large, but the Peruvian presence was felt.
What are your plans for the future?
It's a challenge to reach the Emirates. We've been three times and although they like the product, they're very apprehensive. I think it's because I'm a woman and for them a woman can't conduct these negotiations - unless it's a young Arab, but those who buy are the traditional ones. I intend to return there because I'm not going to quit until they buy from me. I know it's difficult, but I'll do it. Perseverance is what has led us to grow and I intend to reach that market.