Bolivia is where it all started for us over a decade ago. Here we discovered a little known wool fibre that comes from llamas living in the highlands of Bolivia reaching altitudes as high as 5,000 metres. Which would explain why the local indigenous people poetically refer to these as the fibres nearest the sky.
The quality of the fibre is utterly exquisite. It’s a natural wonder unsurpassed anywhere else in the world.
It’s here where we make our Aiayu knitwear.
For us, our Bolivian connection is so much more than a story about a remarkably high quality llama wool. It’s also the story about a unique country and its indigenous people. How they have survived the high altitude of the highlands. The rainy summers and dry winters. Sharing the surroundings with these amazing animals and at the same time, earning their livelihood from them – for centuries.
OUR APPROACH IN BOLIVIA
When we first visited Bolivia In 2004, it was a troubled country. Rich in resources and raw materials but ironically, the poorest country in South America.
It was undeveloped and in need of export opportunities. We saw great potential. Their local knowledge of knitting, artisan skills and the availability of the llama wool itself … It was all exactly what we had hoped to find.
At the same time, we saw this as the ideal opportunity to establish a responsible, sustainable production – right from the start.
Together with our local llama wool producer and partner, along with aid from the Danish Foreign Ministry, the existing wool production was expanded to become the first knitwear factory in Bolivia. Soon spinning, dyeing and knitting facilities were constructed and suddenly we were up and running. It was all very exciting. But what we’re most proud of is the fact that we helped facilitate a supply chain that’s completely in-house. And from a business perspective, completely transparent.
Everything was built according to European standards in terms of protecting the environment, as well as the workers’ and their rights. In fact, it became the first factory in La Paz to implement a water recycling plant, cleaning 100% of the water from the factory and reusing 75% of all water. It is the only factory in La Paz with a WRAP certification and the sole producer of this exquisite material in the world.
By concentrating our efforts on exploring on one material with one producer, we have an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the potential of llama wool – and the unique skills of the local artisans. The result is a focus on offering the best of the best based on an eco-conscious concept that benefits both you, the consumer enjoying our products, as well as the people who make them.
Bolivia lies in the heart of South America, sharing borders with the biggest country of the region Brazil as well as Paraguay, Argentina, Chile and Peru. This Country is rich in diversity, nature, culture and history – a timeless pearl. If you are planning a visit to South America do not miss out on Bolivia. We fell in love with this country 12 years ago – and our love has grown ever since! Bolivia means the world to us. No less.
There are about 10 million people living in Bolivia and more than 60% of it´s citizens are indigenous, predominantly Aymara & Quechua. Bolivia has 37 official languages and with 36 native cultures The Bolivian population is almost as diverse as its ecosystem.
An amazing 40% of all animal and plant life on earth is found in Bolivia. At 3,650m above sea level, La Paz is unofficially the highest capital city in the world.
Bolivia is home to Salar de Uyuni, the “largest mirror on Earth” and also one of the most beautiful things to see. Salar de Uyuni is an enormous 10,582 square kilometers in size and the largest salt flat on the planet.
A clock on the National Congress building in the main square of La Paz runs backwards to remind citizens to think differently. How cool is that! But our favorite fact about Bolivia is that it is home of 2 million Ilamas – the natural source of our knitwear production.
At Aiayu, we made a conscious decision to manufacture a vast majority of all our products with llama wool. Not very well known but with numerous unique properties, llama wool is light and the fibre is hollow, so it’s surprisingly soft and able to provide superior insulation. It’s naturally hypoallergenic. It’s also comparatively longer, stronger and more durable than other wool fibres.
By definition, llama wool is a sustainable product, since it’s derived directly from llama that roam freely in their natural habitat. And of course, shearing causes no damage to the environment or to the llama.
To further minimise any affects on the environment in the processing and production of the wool, we have been instrumental in implementing a water treatment plant that cleans all waste water and recycles as much as 75% of it. It’s something we’ve accomplished together with a local partner, backed by support from DANIDA – the development organisation as part of Denmark’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Our production in Boliva is truly one of a kind. All key processes involved in the manufacturing of llama wool are controlled and performed in-house, on site at our Bolivian facilities – ensuring full transparency and quality control.
When the wool is ready for spinning and knitting the yarns, the local knowledge and techniques are essential to ensure the look, softness and quality of the final Aiayu design. All our products are produced from the same base material, but they are spun in different thicknesses and tensions, giving us a wide range of different looks and textures. Our years of experience with the same material and manufacturer have led to a consistent high quality you can count on.
In terms of colours, llama wool comes in a wide range of natural colours, from pure white to grey, brown and black. We are very conscious about minimising the use of dyes or any other chemicals. To that end, dark fibers are used for dying dark yarns and light fibers are used for dying light colored yarns. To reduce energy consumption in the dye processing, which is also performed in-house, old systems have been improved and replaced with natural gas as the factory’s main source of energy.
Our hand-knitted items are individual works of art, merging traditional Bolivian craftsmanship with modern Scandinavian design. In fact, each garment is “signed” by the Bolivian woman who knitted it, with her name beautifully integrated into the design – as a personal greeting from her to you.
Each style is developed in collaboration with these skilled artisans, reflecting ancient Bolivian traditions expressed for a contemporary lifestyle. Each design can take up to several days or weeks to make from start to completion. Everything is made with incredible care, passion and attention to perfection. Echoing the soul of their ancestors, with a technique that’s been passed on from generation to generation over centuries.
All machine knitted items go through a piece by piece quality control and are carefully finished by hand, making the inside just as refined as the outside.
Ever since we began working with Bolivia over a decade ago, it has been our deep desire to improve and optimise the working conditions and facilities at the factory. With financial support from DANIDA, we are proud to say that we have succeeded on many fronts. From the implementation of the newest knitting machines, to work stations upgraded with correct lighting, heating installations and ergonomic chairs and tables. All workers have undergone first aid training and have government-approved contracts, securing working conditions and minimum wages. Even the cafeterias and sanitary facilities have been updated to meet European standards.
Each upgrade has dramatically improved the working conditions of the people who make our Aiayu products. It is our way of giving back to them the high quality they give to us.