Sabrina Kraus López or the quest to preserve original crafts of the world

Sabrina showing the artisansPhoto by Simon Mills

Sabrina Kraus López shows a calm and poise despite her young age that can only come from passion and determination. Brought up in a multicultural environment (American father, Columbian mother and an education in Switzerland), Sabrina is certainly unfazed by the challenges that the modern world can throw at you. In fact, her multicultural background is the driving force and common thread linking all her projects.

After having completed her BA in Fashion Design in Milan in 2012, Sabrina embarked on an MA in Textile Futures (now called Material Futures) at Central Saint Martins. At the end of the first year, she went on holiday to Peru. She did not venture along the typical tourist paths. Instead, having researched beforehand, she hooked up with a local NGO Awamaki. Awamaki’s mission ” is to empower rural Andean women with skills training, connecting them to global market opportunities that enable them to earn a steady income”. Awamaki connected Sabrina with a community of women living in Patacancha. Patacancha (Sacred Valley) is one of those high, remote quechua villages far from the well trodden tourist paths. There, women still dye and weave wool like their Inca ancestors. It is called back strap weaving.

backstrap-1A back rod is tied up to a tree or a pole and the other end has a strap that encircles the waist of the weaver so the piece woven will be as wide as the woman’s waist and the tension is defined by the way the woman is seated. Back strap weaving is very practical as it is easily portable thus allowing women to be mobile if they have to attend to their sheep, for instance. It is still the most primitive way to weave. The original Inca design was made of stripes. With the Spanish conquest, symbols (like the sun or ships) relating to the Spanish empire were introduced. Each symbol defines from which village in the Cusco area you are from. Sabrina spent two weeks amongst these women learning the way they weave their very distinct, intricate and colourful patterns. The women in Patacancha face fierce competition from other parts of Peru where the traditional weaving techniques have been mechanised and their artefacts mass produced and well positioned in marketable venues around the country. Faced with the rampant mechanisation inherent to the industrial world, these women don’t stand a chance without the support and dedication of organisations such as Awamaki.

model with clutchPhotography, lay-out and identity: Sarah Blais. Model: Jessica Miller (Union)

Sabrina convinced her professors at Central Saint Martins to let her go back to Peru as part of her course. She went back twice that year. She decided to work on a pattern that would revive the ancient Patacancha tradition of stripes. At her graduation show, she presented a collection of clutches made with textiles woven by expert Peruvian hands. The design was stripes of a beautiful yellow dye that comes from a locally grown plant called Quolle. The borders were made of a fluorescent coated leather and to cap it all off, an alpaca bone, typically used as a weaving tool, was cut, polished and stitched on the side of the bag almost as a brand name or logo.

Sabrina in PatacanchaIn a desire to document her travels and the community she had met in Patacancha, Sabrina hooked up with videographer Alvaro Buendia who has created a documentary channel on YouTube with some friends and who was keen on filming her journey but once back in London, she had to find someone else to edit the project. This was done thanks to Thomas Kranabetter, a student in communication design at Central Saint Martins. Sabrina surrounds herself with people who believe in and assist her in her project. The actual photo shoot for her MA graduation show was done with the help of photographer Sarah Blais that she met through common friends. She is, slowly by slowly, building a network of competences and connections across the world which will no doubt be very useful in her future professional projects.

screenshot

Having barely graduated, Sabrina was contacted by The British Council and more specifically by its Architecture, Design and Fashion (ADF) Branch that has at heart to connect designers with cultural institutions around the world. The British Council’s Common Thread project offered Sabrina the possibility to work with Anou, a non-profit organisation created by two Peace Corps volunteers, Dan Driscoll and Tom Counsell a year ago. Dan Driscoll believes that the solution to the fierce competition from mass mechanisation has to come from within the artisan community: He aims to empower these men and women with digital and marketing tools that will enable them to sell their creations and products online taking the middle man out of the equation. To that effect, Dan and Tom have created “a mobile-based online platform (Anou) that enables artisans, regardless of their literacy levels, to independently post their work online and sell their work directly to customers all over the world.” Moreover, they want to multiply interactions between these local communities of artisans and young and upcoming designers eager to challenge themselves to these age old traditions from other countries. In their view, the exchange will invariably be beneficial to both parties.

drawing outsidePhoto by Simon Mills

During her first week in Morocco with Anou, Sabrina learnt to weave the way Berber women weave their rugs in the Ait Bouguemez valley of the High Atlas Mountains. She learnt the Amazigh’s traditional weaving techniques of pile knot. Then, she met at one of the artisans’ houses (Brahim El Mansouri’s village) with the artisans who were going to participate in the workshop. She let the women and men (2 men and 4 women) express themselves about their culture and tradition. Sabrina learnt that the Amazighs once dominated the whole of Morocco until they were culturally assimilated in the 11th Century by diverse Arab tribes. But to these days, they have kept their language and culture intact by weaving specific symbols, patterns and characters within their individual carpets. In fact, that was one of the ways women would communicate with men at war during the Arab Conquest.

Tmazight by Fatima YadiriRug made by Fatima Yadiri as part of the Common Thread project

Sabrina values the interaction that goes on between her and the various communities of artisans she has encountered so far. She feels that in order to innovate creatively, one has to understand the past. By leading this workshop, she wanted the Amazigh artisans to draw new images from their personal stories and common beliefs and traditions that would ultimately ornate rugs. Over the course of a week, she let the artisans familiarise themselves with watercolour pencils, collage and finally some outline design. She, then, asked them to go back home and produce drawings. In the end, 6 designs working together harmoniously were chosen to create 6 limited-edition contemporary rugs presented as part of Design Junction during the London Design Festival 2014.

Common thread exhibitMustapha Chaouai, Rabha Akkaoui, Kenza Oulaghda and Brahim El Mansouri at Design Junction 2014. Photo by Dan Driscoll.

Crafts from the world have long been sold in boutiques around the world. These days, British ancestral craft traditions are even revived to the “goût du jour” to accommodate new appetites in design.  But how to safeguard traditional ethnic crafts and tradition around the world in an increasingly mechanised world? And how to protect their traditional heritage and provenance without compromising with modern demands and design? How to resist the pressure of the modern world and maintain an open mind in keeping with the traditions and heritage of one’s country? These are the questions that Sabrina Kraus López holds dear to her heart while she establishes herself in her new workshop at Founder.

Founder is a new kind of workplace imagined by a Leading Spacial Design Team for the freelance and micro-business community of East London. Sabrina has teamed with another woman from Central Saint Martins who specialises in Fashion Brand Management. Their new company is called Minus Two and they envision themselves as craft curators. This new brand has at core the same concept as the Common Thread project.  Let’s wish them much success in their endeavour to safeguard crafts of the world in this mad, mad world of crazy industrialisation. Long live material identity, provenance and design!

devant le magasinPhoto by Simon Mills

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *