Fashioning respect for Bolivia’s indigenous with traditional clothing

World Today

The election of an indigenous president in 2006 ushered in a new era in Bolivia. Now, indigenous culture is striding onto the world’s top catwalks – as designers incorporate the the styles of indigenous Aymara women – known as Cholas or Cholitas —  into high fashion.

CGTN’s Dan Collyns spoke to one designer about the process of turning designs that were once shunned into a display of pride.

Cholitas on the catwalk — it’s a statement in both fashion and politics. By taking the clothes of her ancestors and turning them into high fashion,  Bolivian designer Glenda Yanez is changing preconceptions about the traditional dress of indigenous Aymara women. The change began after Bolivia’s first indigenous Aymara President, Evo Morales, took office more than a decade ago.

“For me, it’s very important to see the change in Bolivia,” Yanez said. “Indigenous people now feel supported, and we’re able to show who we are and who we’ve always been.”

The chola wardrobe is a fashion distinctive to the Aymare, who are South America’s second largest indigenous group. For years, Aymara women and their rural style were viewed as second-class citizens, but now designers are taking pride in this traditional form of dress, and turning it into high fashion fit for the catwalk.

Most important to the traditional outfit is the multi-layered skirt, or pollera, with five petticoats. Then comes the shawl and the bowler hat, or borsalino, in what Westerners might consider several sizes too small.

With their new found spending power, cholitas are importing tailor-made textiles from China.

“Now the pollera-wearing women have gone to China, and it hasn’t been too difficult,” said Yanez. “They know what kind of fabrics they need and what color combinations to buy. These connections mean they can find exclusively the kind of fabrics and designs they need for this style of clothing.”

On top of her fashion house and workshop, Yanez has a modeling school exclusively for cholitas. For these women, their form of dress is an expression of who they are.