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Behind The Design: Manos Del Uruguay™

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We consider ourselves sweater aficionados, so teaming up with Manos del Uruguay™ was an easy decision given their beautiful (and ultra cozy) designs. Aside from the impressive aesthetics, we’re heartened by the mission Manos has followed since 1968—providing safe, empowering careers for women artisans in rural Uruguay. Cecilia Lalanne, a longtime designer at Manos, told us all about it.

Congrats on Manos’ 50th anniversary! How did it get started back in 1968?

Thank you! Manos started with five women friends who had a shared concern about the lack of opportunities for rural women in Uruguay. Their idea was to sell simple objects that the women were already making—wool blankets. They sold so well that cooperatives were established all over the country.

With the aid of social workers, the founders committed to give the women necessary tools to organize production, administrate the cooperatives, deal with suppliers and customers plus balance their work and personal lives. We believe that Manos should not only be a job but a way to empower women. Our founders have since passed away, but their legacy is still with us.

Very impressive! Can you explain how Manos has grown and how it’s structured today?

Manos grew very quickly. In just a couple of years, many groups were formed in different parts of the country. Now we’re organized into 12 cooperatives. Each one is a workshop located in a small village of Uruguay’s countryside. The artisans are the owners of the company and Manos’ profits are shared among the cooperatives or reinvested in the organization.

We started using raw, undyed wool that was hand spun, hand knitted and handwoven to make blankets. But by 1975 we were making sweaters, ponchos and rugs and started dyeing the wool in beautiful colors that became our trademark. By 1990, we started knitting with handlooms, making intricate intarsias that became hugely popular.

Today we still hand spin, hand dye, hand knit and hand weave yarn—it’s what makes our garments and goods so special.

What’s it like to be a craftswoman at a Manos cooperative?

Our aim is to bring the work to the women, so the workshops are located in small towns where there are very few job opportunities. That way, the women don't have to move to larger cities looking for jobs, lowering their quality of life and losing contact with their families. Belonging to a Manos cooperative means having a steady income, health care and paid vacations. Since the cooperatives are self-administrated, the artisans organize the work and timetables around their families’ needs.

The team at Manos does such great work—what are some of the achievements you all are most proud of?

I think our biggest source of pride is to be celebrating 50 years. In a such a tough, competitive world, it’s a huge achievement for a sustainable, ethical organization to be operating and thriving for so long, and we hope to keep that momentum going. We’re working to make Manos more visible and available worldwide. We’re also looking forward to more amazing collaborations like this one!

Thanks, Cecilia. Want to get your hands on a Madewell x Manos del Uruguay™ original? Act fast—they’re very limited edition.