Suits that uphold traditions and change lives

Every 16th of July, hundreds of thousands of peregrines and tourists go to La Tirana, a town in the north of Chile, to venerate the Virgen del Carmen (Our Lady of Mount Carmel) with masses, dances and fireworks. On this day, the typical costumes would attract the gaze of onlookers– wardrobe that was prepared by entrepreneurs like Vilma Leiton. For her, dressmaking is no mystery. It is her refuge and ally to overcome difficult times.

She was able to see a business opportunity through the costumes used in the popular festivities. She perfected the technique and expanded her knowledge so she could stand out among other dressmakers, and now, she even receives orders from the capital city of Santiago. The support given by Fondo Esperanza three years ago allowed her to cover more work, thanks to the acquisition of new machines.

The town feast of La Tirana, possibly one of the most well-known in Chile, highlights the almost 200 groups who dress for the occasion and fill the streets with their dances. The colors and designs of their costumes represent the fusion of varying cultures of the incas, the Chinese or the centenary traditions of Bolivia. Vilma makes these costumes with utmost dedication as part of her contribution to her community’s most important celebration.

Traditional costumes of the La Tirana feast

Stitch by stitch, her business has been growing: her two older children were able to study in the university and the youngest, a girl, is finishing her studies in Civil and Industrial Engineering. She hopes to help her mother with her future career and shares, “In the future, I would like to enhance my mother’s job, and why not, turn her workshop into a bigger business.”

The village bank, a support network

For Vilma, the solidarity shown by the women members of her village bank is quite difficult to find nowadays. “Right now, nobody helps anybody they don’t know”, she says. Because of this, “what Fondo Esperanza does is an example worth imitating.”

With time, she hopes to keep on growing and contributing so local celebrations, from north to south of Chile, would continue to dress with the colorful costumes from her small Iquique workshop– a project that pushed through thanks to the determination and the effort of a group of unconventional women, who are willing to be independent and be the lead characters of their lives.