Handmade With Love,
men's artisan collectives in rural Peru and every purchase supports subsistence communities.
Carman Manuela is 28 years old and she is a single mother with one daughter. She is originally from the town of Acora near to Puno, Peru. Today she lives in the district of San Juan de Lurigancho, in Lima, and attends the University of San Marcos where she is studying business, and is the first in her family to pursue higher education.
Welcome To Our "Factory"
Carman Manuela was born in the Puno region on November 15, 1988 she is the second of six children. Her father is a farmer who raises Alpacas and sells the wool for use all over the world, to produce high-end garments. Her mother works as part of an artisan collective knitting and crocheting clothing, dolls, and knitted toys, including our world-famous finger puppets.
Growing up, Carman recalls how her grandmother, her mother, and all her aunts used to work together producing orders. “It was always an exciting time when orders would come because we would have extra money for new clothes and toys,” she says with a smile. She also knows it was these fond memories that inspired her to become a business woman.
As a little girl, Carman was always attracted to the colorful yarn and especially the fun toys her family would create, but her favorites were the finger puppets. Her grandmother used to make hundreds of different characters, and always had so much fun making them, and playing with them too! When she was 15 years old, Carman began helping and learned to knit. "I loved creating whatever came to mind."
At 19 years old Carman’s grandmother became very ill, so she accompanied her to Lima for medical attention. Too sick to travel back, the pair ended up staying with family in the city for an extended period. Even at such a young age, the family business was always on Carman’s mind, she knew business was difficult for her father because he only spoke his native language, Aymara, so Carman became determined to start learning Spanish so she could help him one day.
Carman ended up remaining in Lima, got married, and very quickly became a young mother. To help support her new family Carman began knitting finger puppets. She would take them downtown Lima and sell them at the Inca Market where tourists from all over the world would visit. Friends she met there encouraged her to attend knitting training sessions. Unfortunately her husband was not supportive, and did not approve of her having independence.
Her marriage did not last long, but knitting gave her a stable source of work that allowed her to make a living on her own. Carman decided to dedicate all her time to textiles, she set up a workshop at home, and since she is fluent in both Spanish and Aymara, she was able to start helping women’s artisan collectives. Being able to communicate with women, and communities where this is the only language spoken, helps her assist them in selling their work.
"I have knitted finger puppets for many years, but I also love to recreate traditional costumes, I specialize in Quechua and Aymara styles. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed with orders, and my studies, I have to ask other people to come in and help me count the finger puppets and prepare them for shipping to America.”
Today, Carman’s young daughter Natividad helps when there is production to do. “There are some days I devote my full time to knitting,” says Carman. My daughter tells me “Don’t worry mom, you just do your knitting and I will take care of the house.” Adding, “then she takes pictures and puts them on Facebook.”
Since 2013 Carman has been attending classes at the University of San Marcos, she knits finger puppets on the bus ride to campus and between classes. When she graduates, she intends to remain self-employed, but hopes to inspire young women to pursue their dreams. "It is important that women don't just stay at home, but also work and be independent. Through my work, I learned to be a woman of my word, and to love myself."
Carman is just one of many talented artisans who work with Finger Puppets Inc., making "ThumbThings Handmade Finger Puppets." Most live in the rural areas of Puno (Peru) at an altitude of 13,000 ft. above sea level. They take care of their families, tend livestock, work in agriculture, and knit. They are lively women, and are fighters who have a strong desire to improve their situation in life.
Part of our mission is also to inspire people to think about their everyday purchases and about how choosing responsibly made products can change the world. Each finger puppet is handmade by women's artisan collectives in rural Peru and every purchase supports subsistence communities. We are certified by Green America and Green Plus.org.
From The People Who Invented Sustainable Living...
Finger puppets have been part of life in Peru as far back as anyone can remember, but no one knows for sure who created the original designs? Most believe the Incas, who are known for their textiles, originally made them to entertain children. Today the finger puppets are made the exact same way with knitting needles and two hands. Nothing gets wasted in these communities, many of the unique styles are created using the remaining yarn from orders of scarves, gloves, sweaters, dolls, and other knitted toys.
Even though these adorable little finger puppets are produced on a massive scale, they do not come from an organized factory. Instead, individual artisans, mostly women, working together in small groups carefully create each piece. Our artisans often work from home and come from subsistence communities in rural Peru, primarily around the Lake Titicaca basin in the high plains, approximately 13,000 feet above sea level.