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THE HISTORY OF THE PONCHO, A NATIONAL HALLMARK

It’s more than a piece of clothing: it reflects a way of being and standing in the face of nature, and with the history of the hands that weave them. The poncho is ancestral and current clothing at the same time, across geographical and time borders. The Nazcas and the Incas used it for warmth and as a precious object in their burial ceremonies, the Indians that Sebastian Gaboto saw as he rode up the Paraná river in 1529 wore it; it was woven by women for their loved ones to protect them during the wars of independence, it is inseparable from the figure of the Argentine gaucho, and its morphology reached the catwalks of brands such as Yves Saint Laurent, Dior and Burberry. vakiano-knives-argentinian-gaucho vakiano-knives-argentinian-gaucho An Argentine artisanal product In 2018, the Ibero-American Year of Arts and Crafts, we celebrated that the poncho is the main artisan product of our country: handmade, with processes and techniques handed down from generation to generation, with local and natural raw materials. The artisan spends between one and four months in making garment, entwined in a process that began a lot earlier, with collecting the fiber of the llama, the alpaca, the sheep, the guanaco or the vicuña. For camelids, a poncho requires a kilo and a half of wool, and each animal yields approximately 100 grams, with back, chest and stomach fibers being the best. In the northwest region of Argentina, for example, llamas are sheared between November and December through the “señalada”, a ceremony in which the animals are honored with colored ribbons and mother earth is thanked for the wool that is obtained. The wool alchemy The process of making threads from wool is a completely artisanal task. The fibers that were obtained are cleaned, sun dried, stretched into a fleece, and readied to be hand spun, with the help of a spindle or distaff made of wood similar to a top that helps in the process. Some have also used industrial spindles in spinning natural fibers. vakiano-knives-argentinian-gaucho vakiano-knives-argentinian-gaucho Colors The landscape is essential for the design, since the colors of the threads are often obtained with natural dyes. From the ceibos (erythrina crista-galli) they obtain red color, blue from mulberries, green from the molle (schinus molle), yellow from the mikuma, and golden from rhubarb. Also walnut shells, yerba mate, onions, carob tree, creosote bush or beetroot offer a varied range of colors. Some artisans use the same patient dying and sun drying process for their skeins, although they use industrial dyes. The weaving techniques that are used represent their communities.  The inhabitants of the different regions relate to them and know that the ponchos from those regions link them to the territory. Roxana Amarilla, who directs the National Market of Traditional Argentine Arts and Crafts, characterizes some of them according to their designs and weaving techniques. Designs and techniques  The mapuche poncho: it is made in the provinces of the Patagonia and other regions where the mapuches have influence. It is made in a single panel, with a vertical loom, usually out of sheep’s wool artisanally spun. The borders can be labored or with a dying and weaving technique (ikat), the colors they use may be cocolle, ñire or calafate. Some mapuche artisans work with a delicate finish with whole, even fringes. The guarda pampa poncho: it is made by artisans of the province of La Pampa, descendants of the communities of ranqueles that have been displaced; they make ponchos with a tied border, with the ikat technique that combines weaving and dying of a single panel in sheep’s wool. The coya poncho: made by men and women artisans of the Red Puna, they are of llama wool, finely spun in pushka or puska, the Andean spindle. They are light and end in edging or mesh. The atamisqueño poncho: characteristic of Atamisqui in the province of Santiago del Estero, made with very finely spun wool and dyed with natural colors of trees of the Santiagueño hills, like quebracho (schinopsis balansae) and carob tree, or else artificial dyes. The borders are decorated with the ikat technique but they are also edged with pallado or pallay. It’s made on a criollo loom and has two panels joined with a fine decorative or hidden seam. The Salteño poncho (of the province of Salta): it’s made on a criollo loom; it has two panels usually joined with a zigzag seam called quenqo or with a seam in the shape of the wing of a fly. It is very representative of this province and refers to the Güemes epic. vakiano-knives-argentinian-gaucho vakiano-knives-argentinian-gaucho The art of weaving The traditional weavers learned their techniques by observing their elders, helping with finishes or collecting fruit for the dying process with elements of nature. In many communities the entire family group gets involved in the task. Roxana Amarilla describes this as follows: “The immaterial heritage is handed down from generation to generation, but exclusively in this way. For example, in Valcheta, Rio Negro, it is handed down among women, from mothers to daughters and granddaughters, because it is a community of great weavers who were able to set up a workshop where they train themselves and improve their art. In other cases, like the Salvatierra family in the province of Catamarca, it is taught in the home, handed down purely from parents to their children”. At the national level, in the art of weaving it is mostly women, but in the provinces of the Patagonia, weavers are exclusively women because in the mapuche culture the art of weaving on the witral (vertical loom) is an ancestral grace characteristic of women where the genesis of this practice lives on. The loom is where the desires, secrets, joys and sorrows of the weavers are stitched together. It is a place of the encounter of the earthly and the divine, of a dialogue with oneself and with the current and past stories of the peoples that are told while the warp is put together. The woof of the ponchos, ties together life cycles, inheritances, feelings, memories and thousands of tales which come to life again every time we wear it. Courtesy of the Ministry of Culture of Argentina Go to vakiano.com shop vakiano-knives-argentinian-gaucho

HOW TO CLEAN A SADDLE

The best advice to clean a saddle

You need:

  1.  Sponge
  2.  Glycerin soap
  3.  Bitumen
  4.  Water
  5.  Rag
  6.  Bucket
  7.  Brush
Steps to be followed to clean the saddle: Remove the girth, the saddle cloth, the stirrups and the straps. Clean the saddle with a wet rag to remove dirt and sweat. Soap up the whole saddle. The equipment is to be cleaned, soaped up and greased with neatsfoot oil or a special preparation for leather. The leather cinches need to be cleaned well with soap, while for the cloth ones, a hard brush is enough. Finally, the saddle cloth and pads must be brushed or washed with gentle detergents. After hours of riding over dusty plains and long wild paths, dust can get into every nook and cranny of your saddle. But it’s nothing that cannot be removed with a bit of effort.

Steps

 

  1. Soak a sponge in a bucket of warm water. 
  2. Squeeze the sponge until it is just damp, and clean your saddle and harness. (This allows the pores of the leather of the saddle to open so you can clean and condition your saddle and harness when you apply soap to the saddle)
  3. Rub the bar of leather soap with the sponge to create lather.
  4. Apply the soap to the leather moving down from the top, back up in reverse, and all over. This will require some work and your hand may hurt when you are done, but the result is a clean and soft saddle ready for an exhibition.
  5. Clean ALL the lather off the saddle with a dry rag.
  6. Is there still some dirt stuck somewhere? A toothbrush is the solution. Make some lather with the bristles and go into the cracks and places difficult to reach. Yes, this may be an arduous method and take some time, but simply cleaning with soap and a sponge, even if only once a month, you’ll see the difference.
  7. Since you are already covered in lather, and you want your saddle to look like new, why not polish it a little? A brightener and conditioner will soften the leather, and make it look like the day you bought it.
  8. Usually you can clean all the surfaces of the saddle that aren’t leather with a damp cloth, or sometimes with carpet cleaner.

Warnings

Read the label. Some kinds of soaps need to be allowed to work over some period of time, others need to be removed before they dry. 

Saddle soaps may dry the leather, so try to use soap which includes a conditioner every so often. Use saddle soap when it is dirtier. You can also use a damp rag to clean off the dirt before applying soap and conditioner.

Some saddle surfaces cannot be cleaned with soap, you need to use alternative cleaning agents. Saddle soap may damage these elements.

You can clean your bridle and other leather parts of your harness the same way you clean your saddle, but make sure you DO NOT use leather soap on the bit. If some drops on it my mistake, clean it off immediately.

Advice

Periodically make sure your saddle is the right size for your horse.

Clean your saddle regularly, it won’t take long and it’ll make your saddle last longer.

There are several kinds of soaps and conditioners for saddles: damp towelettes, sprays and bars. Use whichever you prefer.

Advice on maintaining your saddle

Along with your horse, the saddle is probably the most important element for a good horseman, so keeping it well is key to lengthen its useful life being as functional and looking as good as the day it was purchased.

Although the most important thing is common sense and giving it a good use, some maintenance tips for saddles are never a bad idea:

It’s important to keep a saddle in a closed environment, not too cold or too hot. It is also essential there’s no water dripping on it or that it’s not somewhere very humid. If there’s a lot of humidity in winter, it is convenient to cover it with a thick cloth or place it every so often where there is heating; humidity is leather’s greatest enemy.

A saddle should be placed on a chair rest appropriate to its size. With this gesture, we will help it not to lose its shape.

After riding, always clean those parts in closest contact with the horse with a rag and some soap to remove dust and sweat. Sweat really dries out leather. Every so often (more or less once a month) the skin of the saddle must be nurtured. A balsam is ideal for this; it is rapidly absorbed by the leather, seeking to eliminate any excess amount.

If it is too dirty, you can clean it with a natural sponge and neutral soap, remembering to let it dry completely before applying the nutrient oil. If the saddle can be taken apart, carefully eliminate all dirt from nooks and crannies.

Once a month all the iron parts, buckles, stirrups and other metal parts must be cleaned to prevent rust. If there already is some rust, it’s best to take it to a saddler and have them eliminate it and oil it appropriately.

Both the fleece and the stirrup blanket need to be mothproofed; if there is a lot of humidity, it is common for these insects to appear and brutally attack the wool.

We need to make sure all parts, especially those in contact with the horse, are in perfect condition. Aside from lengthening the life of the saddle, we make sure the animal is comfortable and doesn’t suffer chafing or other damage and discomfort.

If we follow this advice we may guarantee the saddle for a long time, which will save us a lot of money and above all, we won’t need to look for a new saddle once we are pleased with the one we currently have.

If the saddle has real problems that make it impossible to use, it’s advisable to have a professional that can repair a saddle. Using it in bad condition, aside from losing functionality, may give us a backache and lead our horse to refuse to be saddled and ridden.

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THE CHALLENGE OF SELLING LOCAL HANDICRAFTS TO THE WORLD

In Tandil, a father teaches his son how to braid rawhide for the handle of a knife which will be used by a businessman in Russia. In Belén, a grandmother shows her grandson a loom and together they make a poncho for a Lebanese businesswoman. In La Carlota a master artisan teaches an apprentice how to make an alpaca buckle for a polo player in India. E-commerce burst on the scene in all areas and there was no reason for the local handicraft market to be the exception.
Antonio Martínez Pagola is passionate about gaucho and native population handicrafts and wants the rest of the world to join him in this passion. In order to achieve this, he created Vakiano, an e-commerce platform that offers autochthonous products to international buyers, interested in what Argentine culture has to offer.

1 A curated model.
“Tandil is the city of knives, where there are masters, such as César García or Pablo Lozano, who have taught how to work with rawhide. In the countryside of the provinces of the Argentine Mesopotamia they use the horse more than the truck because of the water, so there is more development of saddles and lassoes. In Salta and Catamarca they work the loom a lot, they make ponchos and there are also a lot of alpaca metal products”, Martínez Pagola explains about the production of handicrafts in the country and he could continue mentioning regions and their specialties for quite a while.

“We stress the good relationship with the provider”, the entrepreneur states, who knows the 200 artisans that work with Vakiano personally. He defines himself more as a curator than as an entrepreneur and says he has always had a leaning towards handicrafts.

Martínez Pagola has worked several years in different businesses linked to this area, first as an employee and later, with his own enterprise, Claraz, a shop located in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires that has specialized for several years in bringing local products closer to the tourists that stay in the different luxury hotels.


2 A digital refuge for tradition.
The techie quota was provided by his partners Gonzalo Lissarrague and Esteban Algorta. Lissarrague, who worked for Thomson Reuters for 25 years and specialized in digital transformation in the Insead School of Business (France), considers the digital world makes it possible to open new markets for high quality traditional products.

“We want to tell the world what work lies behind each handicraft, show the artisan, allow the cultural component to be seen and how the craft is passed on from generation to generation. There is extraordinary work there that is not only in the knife or in the poncho, but in everything that backs it up,” Lissarrague states. This is why there is a list of artisans on the Vakiano web site categorized according to their specialties.

The undertaking also aims to have social impact: “We want people to be able to grow from where they work, and be able to live with dignity with what they do. We want to link an artisan in Salta with a person in Dubai, who is interested in purchasing a poncho; someone who makes a saddle in Santiago del Estero with a person in Hong Kong who wants a unique product”.

Aside from serving as a showcase for the world, Vakiano seeks to be a secure place for the artisans, which is why they provide the materials and guarantee a certain volume of purchases to allow them to work without worries. One of the measures adopted to achieve this is to allow each provider to decide the price of the product according to what he thinks it is worth.

“Many artisans sell very little and make their products in their free time. We try to give them a hand so they can develop their talent further. We’re talking techniques that are handed down through the generations; there are no schools, just children who learn from their parents and improve gradually”, Martínez Pagola holds.

3 Classic luxury.
This business lays a bet on discovering new segments with the ability to pay in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East where interested consumers usually go for industrialized products because there is no traditional manufacture.

“It’s a premium product. Those who look for these kinds of objects also expect it to come via a channel and with a service quality that doesn’t let them down. We want the person in Hong Kong to receive the Vakiano box and have him understand what lies behind that work, to receive a unique experience that brings him closer to the artisan and to where the piece was made”, Lissarrague explains.
To generate this experience, the company has decided to rely on a door to door delivery system and has implemented a delivery follow up method in real time. In addition, it has created a concierge line which allows customers to customize the product.


4 Artisanal numbers.
The initial project investment was u$s 200,000 and they expect the breakeven point to be reached in the first year, although they understand positioning the brand may take time. The launch was sustained by a digital marketing campaign and it is still at the stage of market exploration.
Although Vakiano is still taking its first steps, the team is already thinking of establishing artisan schools to continue encouraging local talent. “The idea was to develop a platform to bring the artisans closer to the world and the world closer to the artisans. The possibility of having a market that values their art and is willing to pay for it is what will allow these marvelous trades to survive and that they may continue to be shared down the generations”, the company explained.


MINIBIOS
Experience
Martínez Pagola worked for several years in different businesses linked to the area, first as an employee and then with his own undertaking, Claraz, located in the Recoleta neighborhood.


Partner
Gonzalo Lissarrague is a lawyer of the UBA, with a master in Marketing from the Universidad de San Andrés; he has studied in Insead (France) and worked for 25 years in Thomson Reuters. Currently he is a founding partner of Latus View.


Partner
Esteban Algorta studied Business Economics in the Universidad Di Tella, took an MBA in Insead (France) and worked for such companies as Axion, Pepsico, Nestlé and The Boston Consulting Group. Since 2018 he works with Lissarrague in Latus View. 

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THE ARGENTINE ASADO; MORE THAN A MEAL, IT’S A CEREMONY

Charles Darwin, the evolutionist, wrote in an 1833 letter to his sister that he had become “a total gaucho”: “I drink my mate and smoke my cigar, and then I go to bed and sleep really well, with the sky for a canopy, as though in a featherbed. It’s such a healthy life, all day on horseback, eating only beef and sleeping with a fresh breeze, you wake up fresh as a lark”.

From the times when nomad gauchos unsheathed their knives by the open fire at mealtime watching the beef grill up to our days, the asado has turned into a ritual that runs through the geography and all of Argentine and Uruguayan society.

Nowadays, the ceremony of the asado doesn’t begin when you sit down at the table. As soon as the fire is lit and the participants start to gather, the ritual starts. A bottle of good red wine is opened, and there is some cheese, salami and very good conversation.

Many of the participants, loyal to the old tradition, will unsheathe their own knives. Each with his personal style, some have their initials on the sheath or the hilt. These pieces that were rustic a few centuries ago have today become exquisite pieces of artisanry, many of them collection pieces.

The grill warms up with the first smoldering charcoal and different cuts of beef, innards, sausages, and even some vegetables are placed on it. It is essential the diners wait for the asado before sitting at the table.

First some chorizos, blood sausages and then the innards, and finally wait for the delicious cuts of beef with well sharpened knives. A good asador is judged for supplying each diner with the beef at the exact degree of doneness he likes.

The asado can be shared with the family or with friends and in either case, it turns into a four or five hour affair to celebrate friendship, family ties and good gastronomy.