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Interview with: Laura Grier from Andeana Hats

Interview with: Laura Grier from Andeana Hats

Quechuan woman and child www.andeanahats.com

Quechuan woman and child www.andeanahats.com

Laura Grier, a travel photo-journalist for National Geographic based in L.A., just started an ethical brand of beautiful handmade alpaca wool hats from Peru, Andeana Hats. Each hat is embellished with a an intentional weaved band representing Quechuan symbols. This business empowers Quechuan indigenous women by giving their endangered traditional weaving skills access to the global market.

I found Andeana Hats through Instagram and immediately loved the concept. I contacted them and found out that Laura, one of the founders, was travelling to London the following week. We immediately scheduled an interview, and Laura came straight to the interview from Heathrow airport. I welcomed Laura with the usual miserable London weather, and after some warm porridge and a cup of coffee, this is how it went:

Patsy Krysiak, Co-founder at Andeana Hats

Patsy Krysiak, Co-founder at Andeana Hats

Chloé: “What made you decide to get into the hat business?”

Laura: “The timing and the circumstances had to be just right to get it started! I’m obsessed with hats. It started as a way for me to protect my skin on photoshoots and then it sort of became my signature thing to be wearing a big hat. And then one day I was on a hike with my now business partner Pats Krysiak, we were hiking through the Andean mountains of Peru to the highest altitude lodge in the world. I was actually sent to photograph the lodge. We were just dying, the altitude was extremely high, over 5,000 m. We’re on oxygen tanks, lamas were portering our equipment. We kept hiking through these villages and saw the women there wearing these beautiful hats and I kept photographing them. Our guide told Pat I was obsessed with these hats, and Pat replied “you don’t understand, she’s like Indiana Jones!” to which I replied “more like Andeana Jones!” because obviously we were in the Andean mountains. I was lacking oxygen and said that would be a great name for a hat company and that’s how it started!”

Chloé: “So, everyone, if you need a new idea, cut off the oxygen!” (Laughs)

Laura: (Laughs) “Yeah, and the ideas will start coming!”

Chloé: “So what difference are you making for these women?”

Laura: “In general, these women don’t really have access to the outside world. Their husbands are working as guides in Machu Picchu. They stay home and weave and feed the llamas. We come to them, we give them a business. We buy their weaving work and we pay them first. In the last 8 months of doing business with them the women are making 20 times what their husbands were earning. We are basically paying them for hours of weaving that they were never getting paid for anyways. Their daughters are now interested in being weavers like their mom, because they see a future in it to make money, and so their tradition can continue on. That’s the whole thing with the National Geographic’s Artisan Catalogue: to support these vanishing arts and crafts. It gives the future generation a reason to want to continue. This business is benefitting them in the sense that it gives their kids more opportunities and access to health care and education. It also gives them confidence in putting a value on their art.”

Chloé: “How do you make sure that your business is ethical?”

Laura: “Ethical is when someone orders a hat, someone has to hike up to the village and place that order, collect it and bring it back down. Everything is handmade and we also limit interactions with the villagers. If the order is not ready, the order is not ready. We don’t want to disrupt their life. They’re not killing the llamas to make the alpaca hats, these are their pets that they love and care for and sheer them to make the wool. They crush these dry worms to make the red tincture. We don’t do any synthetic colours.”

Chloé: “You seem to be doing a lot of different things!”

Laura: “Yes, I do these art pieces for a hospital and its clinics opening all across California. I do travel writing, I just love the combination of the visual side and the written side to tell a story. The hats are a vehicle for me to do all the things I love to do. We’re also launching tours and women retreats in Peru, so not only can you buy a hat but you can also meet the women who made it.”

Chloé: “You are living your purpose. What would you tell women out there who are wanting that for themselves?”

Laura: “I would ask them what are the moments when you are the most happy? Is It learning, reading volunteering, singing, what are you doing? I think it’s important for people to have more than one outlet. I would tell people that are unhappy to break out of their routine, because you don’t know what you love until you try it!”

Chloé: “Last question Laura. What is a Cool Girl, and what does it take to be one?”

Laura: “I assume you think I am cool!” (laughs)

Chloé: “You are definitely part of the Cool Girls Club!”

Laura: “I think it’s the level of confidence that makes you a Cool Girl. Also, the people that are trying too hard and aren’t authentic, it shows. And when you’re really passionate about what you’re doing, it shows too. Those are the people that shine. The definition of a Cool Girl or a cool person is just someone that’s out there doing their thing, something that makes them happy, someone who’s not living by the rules.”

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Talking hats…

The Cool Girls Club thanks Laura for playing the game, making the interview happen and for just being herself: an inspiration!

Shop Andeana Hats: https://andeanahats.com

Follow Laura Grier on instagram

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