By Macarena Arias Silva del Pozo. Images by Macarena Arias Silva del Pozo with interventions by Abraham Yael Pérez Mosqueda. Cover image: Baby resting up in my chest, 2021
Peke-peke: the first word I learned in the Paicoca language since my annual trip to the Amazon. It is a wooden canoe, which served as our main means of transport during our stay. It takes a total of sixteen hours and the crossing of two rivers by peke-peke to reach Lagartococha. Sixteen hours sitting in a canoe with nothing but miles of nature around you.
The foundation I am part of, Beyond Lagartococha, works with small indigenous communities called the Secoyas deep in the Amazon jungle, in the frontier between Ecuador and Perú.
The Secoyas had never had access to any type of what we call “education” on our side of the world until our foundation was able to change that back in 2015. These two rivers look umber brown due to the nutrients produced by the soil and fallen leaves, which creates a highly reflective, mirror-like surface. At the back of the canoe was a box filled with nothing but fabrics.
Before the trip, the community leader asked us to bring them some textiles so they could make their traditional costumes, which had worn out over time. I instantly thought that, in what we call the “educated”, “civilised” world, fabrics became extremely cheap, almost unwearable. Their life cycle is now so short that from the very moment a piece is created, it is just a matter of days before it ends up in a landfill. It is everywhere, you see; fashion has become more accessible than ever before, normalising buying frenzies. It is so ironic. Antithetical.
Now people shop for more clothes and wear them for a shorter time. This mindset has resulted in ceaseless clothing disposability becoming a behaviour. So here is the current pattern: wear it once, throw it away, repeat. And that is what has led to overconsumption becoming the biggest enemy of sustainable fashion. When having that much is not an option, the little you own is worth everything. We brought very simple items from the city: a soft lavender-pink for the girls and bright orange for the boys. We didn’t bring actual ready-to-wear pieces since the Secoya would make their own attires, as they have been doing for years. Our purpose was to allow them to continue to dress in typical clothing without invading their culture, but still helping as we could.
As we arrived, the box was delivered to the women who knew how to sew and work with textiles. One of them was Yadira.
Her long hair reached down to her hip. Thin and wavy, imitating the flow of the river. A young, charming girl, her kindness reflected in her tender eyes. The way she treated the fabrics was so soft and graceful, almost ethereal. Like works of art. Like they deserved to be treated.
After a while, Yadira came out of one of the huts with the garments folded up in a pile. Ready to wear. Instantly, all the kids ran towards her, eager to finally wear their long-awaited costumes. She placed the pink and orange piles on the ground, one next to the other, and waited to hand out one to each.
From that moment on, no one took them off until the very last day.
The way the process was unveiled was crazy to me. So foreign and unfamiliar. Almost alien. For them, dressing up was such an untainted, harmless action. I hadn’t seen it in a very long time. I felt very distant from the situation, but completely in awe. Encouraged to learn from their behaviour, I felt as if it was going back to our origins. To why and how we dressed before consumption plagued our minds. It started from a purely artistic and decontaminating viewpoint. Picking out colours, sewing fabrics together by hand, and most importantly, knowing their worth when wearing them.
This one piece of clothing would be worn every day for months; they didn’t need more. They didn’t want more. Their necessity was fulfilled. Why have more if it would serve the same purpose?
It was the opposite of excess. The concept of using more resources than an ecosystem can regenerate was unknown to them.
Somewhere in the world – I thought – ‘dressing up’ had preserved its meaning. A form of expression. A way to communicate. A tool to share talent, taste, and culture – sustainably. There are places in the world where the definition of ‘want’ and ‘need’ has not yet been corrupted. Where that ceaseless human urge for buying more does not exist. Their habits are based on necessity. On the last day of our stay, I was sitting next to Fedelina, one of the kids who live in the village. Her legs hanging off the canoe edge, toes grazing the cool surface of the river like a vinyl needle, and birds singing loudly. She was silent, gazing at her own reflection, while softly playing with her feet on the water.
“What are you staring at, Fede?”, I asked.
“Es que me estoy viendo en mi espejo!” – “I’m looking at myself in my mirror!” she replied with a soft, giggly voice.
The reflection in the water was so unflawed and impeccable that it served as Fedelina’s mirror. A mirror that had seen her come of age and grow into the smart little girl she is today. A mirror that seemed infinite, that beautifully reflected the colours of the jungle, and she got to call it hers.
How could Fedelina ever comprehend that she risked losing it due to our levels of overconsumption? That one day she could wake up to find out that her mirror was gone. She would approach it, as usual, only this time there would be no reflection to see. What used to reflect the intense pink and orange colours of their clothing would now be painted pitch black. What used to echo her tiny kinetic silhouette on the water would be oily and filled with chemicals. Toxic. Stained. Diseased.
It is in our hands to maintain those colours alive and those reflections in motion, in this kind of mirror.
Macarena Arias Silva del Pozo is an undergraduate student in Fashion Styling & Creative Direction at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.
Abraham Yael Pérez Mosqueda is an undergraduate student in Multimedia Arts at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.