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Natural Look: Argentine Fashion Weaving Back To Basics

Forget nylon!. Local clothing lines like Animaná are rediscovering all-natural fibers such as lama and linen, and even producing fabrics the old-fashioned way.

Hand weaving is getting a second wind in Argentina
Hand weaving is getting a second wind in Argentina
Ines Pizzo

BUENOS AIRES At a time when synthetic fibers are all the rage and clothes seem to almost be disposable, some Argentine designers are turning back to natural fibers. Good news, because not only are these materials prized on the international market; they're also in generous supply in Argentina.

"Argentina has outstanding potential when it comes to the variety of natural fabrics available," says Mariana Carfagnini from the testing department at the National Institute of Industrial Technology (INTI). "We've got cotton, wool, lama, guanaco, cashmere, silk, chaguar (plant fiber) and vicuña."

Natural fibers have a long list of positive characteristics. They're biodegradable, are thermal regulating, and are even stain resistant. Little wonder they've "been used throughout our history," Carfagnini notes. That history, in turn, lends the fabrics "cultural weight," she adds. "These fibers are ambassadors of our textile identity."

We make clothes they way they did 200 years ago.

With a focus on environmental protection, transparent production processes and conservation of traditional crafting, several brands have given these fibers a prominent role in their collections. Coat makers Manto, for example, use lama and sheep wool, silk, linen and cotton for their products. For 20 years it has been working with traditional craftsmen in Salta and Jujuy. The suppliers produce the fibers directly, and spin their own wool.

"Our artisans spin and weave as their ancestors did," says Clara de la Torre, the label's creator. "It's a tradition they inherit from generation to generation. Each spinner works in his or her home, immersed in nature."

Natural colors, traditional techniques

For Alejandra Gotelli, a designer for Cúbreme, using these types of materials means doing another kind of work. "In using natural fibers while trying to keep their pure, authentic state, the key is to understand the characteristics of production and be assured of the animal's welfare," she says. "You have to be near the producers and visit the spinning mills. You must take care throughout the supply chain."

The range of colors in Gotelli's clothes come from the natural tonality of the spun wool. She doesn't use any dyes. And he label's commitment is long-term: promoting environmental protection and the value chain, which begins with the sustainable raising of camelids (lamas, guanacos and vicuñas) roaming freely in their natural habitats in the Andes or Patagonia.

"Manual processes are used to obtain the fibers and wools, which are cut and the best ones selected," says Adriana Marina, founder of the Animaná clothing line, which has a showroom in the capital's youthful Palermo district but also sells in France and the United States. "There is a great variety of natural colors selected. They range from white and beige, to intense black."

New designers use ancestral techniques to create their products — Source: @animanaonline

Classifying and separating fibers by color, length and thickness is a fundamental step in Animaná"s production process. Afterwards the fibers are cleaned in pools with hot water and special soap. Then there is the first selection: bristles are picked out and the wool is spun by hand. The design of its products, furthermore, draws on ancestral techniques rooted in the culture of native communities, Marina explains.

Likewise, the Ayma clothing company, which makes ponchos and made-to-measure items, not only uses native wools but also traditional weaving practices. Ayma is one of the new Argentine brands whose designs combine contemporary modernity and sophistication, with simple, sustainable and natural luxury.

"We make clothes they way they did 200 years ago," says founder Carlos Carro. "We look for 19th century looms, and for that we invite master artisans to train young people in this craft."

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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