Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Sherina Feliciano-Santos


Puruhá fashion designers, vendors, and sellers have used their cultural heritage to create an emerging dress market that is both locally productive and nationally disruptive. These entrepreneurs have combined traditional dress with contemporary elements to create a new style that is distinctly recognizable as Puruhá, and thus acts as both a cultural and an individual brand. In a nation-state that offers its Indigenous people tokenism and concessions that don’t otherwise challenge the status of existing governmental and legal systems, having control over one’s own narrative through branding is a revolutionary act. In fact, the fight for economic autonomy against state sanctioned development programs is central to how many Puruhá social actors describe their shared history and current motivations. For Puruhá dress designers and sellers, autonomous economic success eliminates the notion that Indigenous people need a middleman to help them negotiate any non-local market, a rhetoric unfortunately still present in Ecuador today. It also gives them access to social capital, such as business networks and high fashion language, which had previously not been accessible because of the devaluation of Indigenous artistry in Ecuador. In this way Puruhá entrepreneurs have been able to sidestep legal political recognition within Ecuador in favor of broader social visibility through economic achievements, which can be implemented without the direct support of the nation-state.

Included in

Anthropology Commons