Manos Cooperatives: Supporting the Women of Uruguay through Hand-Dyed Yarn

Every purchase of beautiful Manos del Uruguay yarn supports the lives of female artisans in rural communities through Manos Cooperatives

Over the past few years, I’ve become much more mindful of where the things I buy come from. I’ve become much more aware of the horrible amount of slave labor that is responsible for many of the items I normally buy without a moment’s thought. At the same time, I’ve discovered companies that are taking a stand against this by being proactive in providing jobs to impoverished and oppressed people. When a company goes out of its way to provide opportunities for people who have none, to pay them a good wage and provide them with benefits so that they can support themselves and their families, it makes me want all the more to purchase products from that company.

One such company is Fairmount Fibers, which hosts the Manos Cooperatives in Uruguay. Below is a quote that explains the mission of the Manos Cooperatives from the company’s website:

The Manos Cooperatives were founded in 1968, begun by five women whose goal was to develop economic opportunities for women in a country where there were, and are still, few opportunities for work.

They began modestly, by selling handcrafts at local shops and the annual agricultural show in Montevideo. In time spinning, dyeing, weaving and knitting became the focus of the Coop’s efforts. Initially the ‘faded,’ striated colors of Manos yarn were the result of heating yarn for dyeing in large, iron kettles over wood fires. Over the years, the dying process has been refined to provide consistency of color without losing what has become the trademark stria shading.

Continuing to develop its reach while helping to organize the working women of Uruguay both socially and financially, the Manos Cooperatives opened a showroom in New York City in 1976, selling knitted and woven garments as well as yarn for handcrafters. (This showroom closed in 1986.) Since then, the Manos Cooperatives have expanded to encompass 17 individual cooperatives, employing 350 artisans.

Manos Cooperatives employees receive health insurance, retirement pensions, paid vacations, and paid maternity leaves; some of these are things we take for granted, but for Uruguay this was revolutionary. In addition, the first kindergartens in Uruguay began as childcare provisions for Manos employees. Today there are kindergartens and preschools throughout Uruguay, so you could even say that Manos Cooperatives revolutionized the education system in Uruguay, too.

One last quote from the website:

With each purchased skein of Manos del Uruguay yarn, you will be helping a woman to support her family. Each skein is signed, so you will know who made your yarn, and from which village it came. You will be supporting the hand-crafted rather than mass-produced, and contributing to an economy where the workers control of the means of production. You, as a handknitter, crocheter or weaver, will be contributing to women’s careers in harmony with family life, and contributing to the landscape, and cultural heritage of Uruguay.

An Opportunity for Knitters and Crocheters to Make a Difference

Obviously Manos Cooperatives aren’t a charity, but they are still making a difference in the lives of hundreds of Uruguayan women. And we, as knitters and crocheters, can assist in this simply by purchasing Manos del Uruguay yarn offered by Fairmount Fibers. Every skein has been hand-spun and hand-dyed, and the Uruguayan woman responsible for each skeins signs her own name to it.

Manos del Uruguay yarn is available at many local yarn shops; if a yarn shop near you doesn’t carry it, you can order it online through WEBS, the largest online yarn store in the U.S.! You can take a look at the Manos varieties available here.

At the Fairmount Fibers website, you can read about the Manos Cooperatives, their yarns, and their artisans.

This is a wonderful way to treat yourself (or a special knitting/crocheting friend or relative) to some luxurious, high-quality, beautiful yarn and make a difference in the lives of others at the same time!