Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
The Puruhá are an indigenous group from the Ecuadorian Andes who have used their cultural heritage to create a fashion market that is both locally productive and nationally disruptive. Designers and entrepreneurs have combined traditional dress with contemporary elements to create a new style that is distinctly recognizable as Puruhá, and thus acts as both a cultural and an individual brand. In a nation-state that offers its indigenous population tokenism and concessions that don’t otherwise challenge the status of existing governmental and legal systems, having control over one’s own narrative through branding is a revolutionary act. Moreover, autonomous economic success eliminates the notion that indigenous people need a middleman to help them negotiate any non-local market, a rhetoric still present in Ecuador today. It also gives them access to social capital, such as business networks and high fashion language, which had previously not been accessible because of the devaluation of indigenous artistry in Ecuador as artisan work or folk art. However, tensions have also emerged between those who frame themselves primarily as high fashion designers, with an individual creative brand, and those who primarily frame themselves as vendors, and pull from an aesthetic cultural commons to produce garments that sell at a range of price points (sometimes referred to by designers as copies). Still, all of these Puruhá entrepreneurs speak to the revival and (re)creation of a contemporary Puruhá identity, sidestepping legal political recognition within Ecuador in favor of broader social visibility through economic achievements.