The Açaí seeds we use come from the Euterpe Oleracea, a species of palm tree cultivated mainly for the fruit it produces, which has become very popular in juices and food throughout the Americas because of its nutritional and anti-oxidant properties. The tree mainly grows in tropical swamps and floodplains. The palm is tall and slender, growing to a height of about 50 – 100 feet. The tree is a very important resource for the communities, as the leaves can be made into hats, mats, baskets, brooms, and roof thatch for homes, and the trunk wood is used for construction. The fruit is small, round, and dark purple, about the size of a small blueberry. The seed itself is about 80% of the fruit. Once the fruit is removed, the remaining seed is dried and cleaned and ready to become jewelry!
Our jewelry also uses the Tagua nut from the Tagua Palm tree, Phytelephas Aequatorialis, found in the tropical rainforests of South America. It is also known as vegetable ivory, as it is similar in look and feel to elephant ivory. A fun fact, in one year, the Tagua palm can produce the same amount of ivory as one female elephant can in her entire lifetime. And, before the invention of plastic, this ivory nut was used to create some of the finest buttons in the clothing industry. The most common type of Tagua Palm grows to about 20 to 30 feet in the damp areas of the tropical forests. The nuts grow inside of large clusters, which then must be separated to take out the individual nuts. The nut shells are used as animal feed, and the palms of the tree are also used as roof thatch. When the pod is harvested, it then must be dried for 4 – 8 weeks in order to become hard. Then the shells can be removed to create a polished surface, or only partially removed to create our rustic look.
The Pambil seed, which comes from the Iritartea Deltoidea, is an essential resource for the artisans in Ecuador. The seed is used to create jewelry, but the wood is also used by the indigenous cultures to construct their houses. These trees are tall trees, part of the canopy of the rainforest, growing to 65 – 115 feet tall. They are easily recognizable because of the big bulge in the middle of their trunk and the stilt roots which form a dense cone at the base of the tree, making the tree look like it’s roots are above ground. The seed is a large round seed, about 1 inch in diameter, and is commonly used to create jewelry by the indigenous cultures.
The Jaboncillo seeds we use in our jewelry are from the Sapindus Saponaria tree. The tree’s pulpy fruit, which is about ¾ inches in diameter, has a single black seed and also creates a thick juice which can be used as a liquid soap. This liquid is actually used by the indigenous in Ecuador as a natural soap, hence it’s name “jaboncillo” which means “small bar of soap” in Spanish. The tree can grow up to 80 feet tall, and is an evergreen that can be found in the tropics of the Americas.
Coconut grows naturally in most tropical countries. Given Ecuador is on the equator, it has many cocount trees in the tropical areas at low elevation on the coast. We use the dried shells from these coconuts to create our beads in various shapes and sizes!
Olga and Cesar live in a small rural village outside of Otavalo, Ecuador. Neither of them were able to complete high school because their families lacked the means for them to do so. A few years ago, they began to craft materials and jewelry that came from natural seeds found only in the rainforest and to sell these materials and pieces in the Otavalo indigenous market. “You don’t know what life was like before,” Olga often says, and really it is hard to imagine. Before they started their own business, they were hardly ever able to make ends meet, often forgoing food themselves so their kids could eat. Olga and Cesar have four children, including a new little baby who recently joined the family this past May, and now their workshop is what puts food on the table, enables them to send their children to school, to improve their simple home, and to be able to afford the essentials of modern life. As proud parents, they are working to “give their children a future, so they can have a better life” and both Olga and Cesar sincerely thank each and every person who buys La Pucara's jewelry for helping to make this future possible for their family.
With an education in Finance, International Business, and Entrepreneurship, Colleen Graneto worked for over 3 years in the finance industry. Looking for an adventure, she decided to move to Ecuador in 2009, originally with the intent of staying only for a year. That year turned quickly into 3 years, as Colleen immediately fell in love with South America. While living in Ecuador, Colleen taught English, worked with various small businesses, foundations, and non-profits, traveled (of course), and learned Spanish and Portuguese. She has always had an artistic side and has been painting, drawing, making jewelry, and dabbling in various crafts since as early as she can remember.Upon learning about Tagua, Acai and all the other seeds that can be used to make beautiful jewelry, Colleen decided to utilize all of her past experiences and start La Pucara Collections. Now living back in the US in Chicago, Illinois, Colleen is working to grow her shop and help provide support for the artisans and communities she works with back in Ecuador!