By Kartika Putra
This article was published in Issue 18 of Renegade Collective.
With a dream to scour the planet, uncover age-old crafting techniques before they are swallowed up by progress, Tika Putra and Jessie Helyar are FASHION WARRIORS.
Words by Danielle Colley
It all began at an ‘orphan’s Christmas’ feast in a small fishing village on Colombia’s north coast. A life-changing friendship was brewing for Australian travellers Tika Putra and Jessie Helyar, but also a life-changing idea to help keep indigenous art forms alive across the globe.
“We were both towards the end of our journey but weren’t ready to go home yet,” says Tika of the trip into the wilds of Ecuador that followed.
“We didn’t know what we were doing – we just went to Ecuador so we could hang out on the coast!” adds Jessie.
Hours spent on buses traversing the diverse countryside, whiling away time with banter of dreams, an idea began to form under the watchful gaze of the Ecuadorian mountains.
“We never really said, ‘lets make this happen’, it just started to happen,” says Jessie.
They may have been far from home, but serendipity was on their doorstep.
It was at the largest artisanal markets in Ecuador, the Otavalo Market, where the creators of label Wolftress discovered the fruits of the loom.
“We’d see something we liked and we’d ask ‘can we go to your house and you teach us how to make this?'” says Tika.
“And they’d look at us as if we were absolutely crazy with our broken Spanish,” chimes in Jessie, “but every now and then you’d get someone that says, ‘Yeah I live an hour away, you catch a bus to the big corner and walk down the dirt road past the blue house to the yellow house’, and every time we’d hear these instructions, we’d wonder if they would even be there if we managed to find it!”
But they did follow those instructions along obscure and untrodden paths, fired by curiosity and passion.
“We’d go to this town and we’d be the only non-locals there and people would ask, ‘What are you doing here, are you lost?’ and we’d just say, ‘We’re looking for Pablo!'” says Tika, laughing at the memory of just how many Pablos live in Ecuador. But they found themselves ushered into living rooms where massive looms took pride of place. It was there many families spent all day, every day, weaving.
Much like the village ethos they experienced, Tika and Jessie see Wolftress as a pack that champions art, respect and community and goes beyond fashion.
“We want to empower people to look deep within what they want to do without worrying about what society wants them to be. That’s the ethos of a lot of indigenous cultures,” says Tika. “I feel like in the western world, a lot of people have lost touch with their own self because society tells us what to do and who to become.
“We want to make everyone aware of the craft behind clothes and bring back the spirit of fashion.”
And while the machines may roll on, this duo might just be the bridge this gap needs to bring two worlds together.