Carmen Gloria Benitez in her house and workshop.
 
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November 2002

Carmen Gloria Benítez, embroiderer from El Barrero:
United we stand

For more than a quarter century, women from the village of "El Barrero" in Huechuraba (Santiago's suburbs) have been developing a textile industry. Based on female effort they have created an economical force that is the zone's familiar sustenance. We spoke with Carmen Gloria Benitez, president of an association of independent female workers.

By Rosario Mena

 

The story behind El Barrero's embroiderers starts in the 70s, when this village was founded at the planes of the hills that are now known as Huechuraba, outside Santiago. Around four hundred families settled there, most of them young marriages coming from different parts of Santiago. Among them was Carmen Gloria Benitez, now the president of the Huechuraba Embroiderers Foundation. "We were living at El Salto when a friend of my husband told us about a land-taking and that we could maybe get some land. We came here with nothing. I put all my things in a truck and moved here when it was all dust. My husband built a room and we lived there, all three of us with our son. All families here became very close, until now".

Then, in the year 1975, some ladies from the upper side of Santiago "came here to teach us how to knit". So the women there began to make carpets with patterns imported from Brazil. They got big demand. There started the workshops known as "Talleres de Conchalí", organized with different groups of women that grew until becoming a whole village of workers. They all learnt how to sew and embroider, and produced a wide offer of quilts, lingerie, clothes and girl dresses. They were led by Josefina Errázuriz, and along with high-class women created an exemplary industry, based on female work, collaboration and association. "We had machines, scissors, patterns, all that we needed. When they traveled to Spain, France or England, they would bring us dress patterns. We even made some clothing for Lady Di´s children".

Nowadays, more than forty different workshops can be found at El Barrero, most of them inside the women's houses. Their success may be explained by how the seed found fertile land. A lot of the workers already had a family tradition of needles and threads. "My mother had a high-couture workshop in Chillán", says Carmen Gloria. "So since I was a little girl I knew how to make stitches, put buttons. One could also learn at the nuns' schools".

During the 80s, most of the women became independent. A group that stayed together now provides the store they have at Vitacura (Santiago's uptown). The Huechuraba Embroiderers Foundation, led by Carmen Gloria, has 28 regular members; each one of them works and sells independently. "They told us that if we got together, we would get better sales, make some publicity and all that. Because it's hard if you are on your own. Besides, the City does not bill us any permission. They have helped us with classes about how to sell, deal with the clients. We got a grant with which we made some bags and publicity brochures".

Though some of them have turned to electrical embroidery, Carmen Gloria sticks with the handmade. That is the one preferred by Santiago's uptown families, who look for an elegant dress for their girls, or the exporters that have sold their exclusive designs in countries such as France, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Argentina or the United States.

 
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