During an Indagare-planned family trip to Peru in 2015, Lisa Sheldon’s multiple roles as a fashion designer, social worker, mother of two and passionate traveler came together. After visiting the Amantani School in the Andes Mountains in the south of the country, Sheldon, who has a master’s in clinical social work from Columbia University and has worked with several fashion firms, including Calvin Klein, decided she had to get involved. The school strives to bring the local children out of poverty by equipping them with the skills necessary for successful careers. This goal and the integrity of the operation so moved Sheldon that she launched the fashion label Amantani New York, which employs Peruvian techniques and materials and donates a percentage of proceeds to the school. Here Sheldon shares her experience of visiting the school and her plans to help more communities in the coming years.
Our Indagare adventure to Peru gave birth to a long considered dream of mine. We hiked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu and were deeply moved by the spiritual connection the Incas had to the earth. They were a highly social, inclusive people who worshipped an earth goddess called Pachamama. We experienced a natural energy when meeting various Peruvian individuals whose warmth and hospitality still resonates with me. However, the most extraordinary highlight for our entire family was our visit to the Amantani School in Ccorca, which Indagare had thoughtfully arranged. While I loved Peru’s culture, food and glamorous hotels, I was most positively impacted and deeply moved by this school and its community.
What about the Amantani School had the greatest effect on you and your family? Amantani is about an hour’s drive from Cusco over rough roads. The valley where the school is located is one of the most picturesque places I have ever seen, a Quechua district nestled high in the Andes Mountains of Southern Peru. Unfortunately, the local people are very poor and have to work from a young age just to make ends meet. Many of the children had to walk for up to eight hours each day to get to and from school.
In 2008 a group of dedicated foreign and local individuals established the Amantani School as a place for children to live together and learn skills that would allow them to transform their community. Many of the local families initially resisted, but today the school brings residents hope and gives the children a chance for a real future. The energy is infectious, and the students are happy and eager to learn from their teachers and one another. They need funds to continue their mission, and when we realized what a difference we could make, I knew I had to help. Just two days after our visit, I created Amantani New York to supply a needed revenue source for the school.
My line draws inspiration from the Incan connection to the earth and uses baby-alpaca fleece, which is incredibly soft and durable. Each Amantani New York piece has its own character because it is individually made from cloth hand spun by women using techniques have been passed down for generations. We use the Incan triangle loom to weave, and I love the organic shapes and sensuous silhouettes that can be designed on the ancient tool. I want these pieces to reflect traditional Peruvian designs with a slight modern edge.
How would you like to see proceeds from your sales spent to benefit Amantani? I would like to see better facilities, higher enrollment rates and more teachers. Most important, I would like to see the children graduate and have a better life than past generations.
What other aspects of visiting Peru were your favorites? The center and northern parts of the country are dominated by the Andes Mountains, which are so close to the equator that they are green even at altitudes far higher than the highest parts of the Rockies. The connection between the sky and the mountains is unforgettable, and one can imagine the Incans being inspired by this same lush landscape. The impact of the people, culture, food, museums and incredible scenery will stay with me forever.
We hope to continue to travel the world as a family as much as possible. As for Amantani, we will continue to work with our Peruvian artisans to create new design and expand our product line. I can see us producing dresses, ponchos, wraps, vests, scarves and blankets that will all incorporate our luxe bohemian flare.
I would also love to include designs that draw inspiration from different cultural settings and regions around the world. I hope to continue to form deep relationships with artisans and highlight their unique designs. In this way, I hope to generate a steady revenue stream that will help fund other schools in different parts of the world. My dream, and my family’s dream, is to help improve the lives of other families in any way we can. I am grateful to Indagare for being the impetus that helped me find deeper meaning and purpose in my life’s journey.
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