As the textile industry in the United States died out and young people fleed rural communities, the beautiful area of the Rio Grande sunk into poverty. By the 1990's most of their residents were unemployed and in need of government assistance to survive.
Enter Carla Gomez, a weaving teacher at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, NM. When one of her students, a single mother of six, needed a job, Carla saw a need and filled it. She secured the woman a job through the Department of Labor work training program. The non-profit Tapetes de Lana was born out of the need of one woman and the problem solving skills of another.
Nine years and two sizable grants later, Tapetes de Luna operates two store fronts, one in Las Vegas (that's NM not NV) and the other in Mora, NM. They run a spinning mill to process the needed alpaca wool, which has revitalized the textile and alpaca industries in Northern New Mexico. They operate a community kitchen, a performing arts center, and a cinema in the town of Mora where before most of the buildings stood empty.
Walking into the store on the downtown plaza of Las Vegas is like visiting a friendly classroom. Weavers work on spanish looms which in the beginning of the program they constructed by hand out of scrap 2x4's. Colorful rugs and garmets for purchase hang from the walls. On the tables are weaving books open to the patterns of rugs in progress. Baskets filled with rainbows of hand-dyed yarn dot the floor.
Tapetes de Lana has grown from a place where women and men came to meet their welfare reform requirements to a place where weavers come to work, sell their products, and take home a real paychheck. Today, two out of every ten weavers the program trains stays at Tapetes de Lana-they've trained more than 100 people to date.
"This is a story of successful social venturing and partnerships," says a spokesperson from the Hitachi Foundation, one of Tapetes de Lana's grant sources. "At Tapetes de Lana, social entrepreneurs are creating a flourishing social venture project out of the rich cultural history of Northeastern New Mexico."
Products can be bought online from the Tapetes de Lana store and considering it may take many months to weave an intricate design, the prices are fair and reasonable. After all, it's not a rug off the shelf of a crowded department store. Each rug is a one of a kind work of art that will last for generations.
Visit www.tapetesdeluna.com to see and buy the work of these talented artists. Buying a rug not only benifits the buyer but sustains the growth of a cottage industry that is truly changing the lives of an entire town.