"In Uruguay you have cows, and you have sheep," says knitwear importer Christina Des Vaux ’06. Traditionally rural Uruguayan women would knit at home using the wool from their family sheep. Des Vaux wants to preserve that tradition by providing a market for these knitted goods.
At Brown, she studied international relations with an emphasis on Latin American cultural identity. After graduating she won a Rotary Scholarship to study women artisans in Uruguay and their trade relationships with the United States. Her original idea was to link them up with nonprofit organizations, she says. But when she got to Uruguay, she found that "there weren't a lot of trade relationships."
Des Vaux teamed up with two Uruguayan partners to create Textura, which sells handmade sweaters, shawls, and scarves online.
"Our goal is to bring work to women," while also providing them with fair compensation, Des Vaux says. "There's a lot of marketing around these issues," she emphasizes, "but this isn't marketing. It's just the way things are. It's a niche industry."
This year Textura launched a line of products with El Origen, a Uruguayan knitting cooperative. "We'd sold their goods before, but this new line is a collaboration," Des Vaux says. "We are involved in the entire process, from the wool through the design and the retailing." She and her partners hope to expand Textura's distribution and sell through a high-end retailer, "a Barneys or a Saks," she says.
Raised in Las Vegas, Des Vaux was the first in her family to attend college. ("Talk about culture shock!" she says of the transition from Vegas to Providence). Her work with Textura has led her to the University of Chicago, where she is now working on her MBA.
"I needed to know more for this to be sustainable," she says. "Because the work so directly affects the lives of the people involved, I felt I couldn't take the risk of failing."