Lele and Kina Andersen are actually half Swedish, half German, and they grew up in the Canary Islands of Spain. They came to Peru in 2013 for tourism, but one and half years later they are still here and working with their own fashion brand called Siblings Army.
Siblings Army provides beautiful and functional clothes and accessories that use handmade Peruvian fabrics (mantas) combined with other materials such as leather and jean. The current collection includes jackets, vests, bags, camera straps and wallets. Their brand represents a new take on traditional Peruvian crafts: they are unique, one-of-a-kind pieces that resist time. Being sustainable and environmental friendly is important to Siblings Army: for example, the leather they use comes from Colombia, as they found the Peruvian leather containing too many toxic metals such as lead. Recycling the old, used mantas to new objects is also a way of protesting against the "use and throw away" culture.
But how did these international sisters arrive in Peru?
"When we first came to Peru it was crisis in Spain and everything seemed so grey and sad over there. Then we came to Peru and we saw all these colors, all these amazing crafts in Cusco, and we were fascinated" tells Kina.
"We understood that it was far easier to start a brand here" adds Lele, who came to Peru from New York. She had already studied fashion there, and earned a degree from the prestigious Parsons Design School.
The sisters started to take the first steps towards their own brand, learning along the way. Things turned out to be more complicated than they first thought, but little by little they learned to navigate their way in Peru.
"Yes, there were quite a few things we had to learn" remembers Lele. " But it's important to learn quickly to speak in a local way". Although they are native Spanish speakers, for their Nordic looks Lele and Kina were always identified as foreigners in Peru. "People are trying to locate our accent. Sometimes they guess Chile, or Venezuela" Kina laughs."It's important to learn the local way of speaking very fast. When people perceive you as a foreigner, they very easily try to take the advantage of you"
How do you navigate in Peru as an entrepreneur?
"Well, for example finding our workshops was not easy. With time, we have learned a few things, like how to use networks. It is often the famous 'cousin's cousin' who can help you out -everything goes through networks. Having a local contact is absolutely vital for any business here."
At the moment Siblings Army employs two people in Peru on regular bases. I wonder if Lele and Kina have anecdotes to tell about their production (remembering my own experience of geeting boots made in Cusco). "Oh yes, we have so many anecdotes we could write a book about them" Lele says. "There are times we have had to go to look for our product catalogs with a police, and other times when a precious leather was completely destroyed by the artisans." In general, the siblings agree that operating in Peru requires a lot of patience: things don't always roll in the same rhythm than in Northern countries.
"But ever since we learned 'the two things rule' things have got easier" adds Kina.
Two things rule? What is that?
"It means that in Peru you can achieve maximum two things per day. Things take time. For example, Lima is such a big city that planning to go to different offices on a same day is just not possible. Complete two things and call it a day."
What do Lele and Kina recommend for visitors? What should a visitor do in Lima, for example?
"Well, the food obviously is amazing, and there are many good restaurants. Amaz with the food from the jungle, for example, and Barrio, for Peruvian food. And then there is this restaurant in Miraflores calle La Plazita, which pretty much appeals to Europeans, with candle light and all that."
"Well, first of all: don't buy it in Lima! Most of our mantas come from Willoq community. They have a long weaving tradition and the colors they use are beautiful. The colors of a fabric can tell about its age: brighter, synthetic colors are generally newer, whereas more down-to-earth natural colors are older."
In their own products Siblings Army prefers to use used fabrics with natural colors. "Those are the most difficult to find: green and blue, for example. We like the old fabrics because they tell the history of a certain place, a certain community. Once you start to understand the symbols the fabrics start telling you a story: a blue stripe in the weaving may talk about the rain season, for example. Plants and animals have their own symbols, too."
If you are in Peru you can find Siblings Army products in Vernácula, and if no, they also ship world-wide through their online shop.
Thank you Lele and Kina for the interview & tips!