NORTHAMPTON -- "What is life without a story?" says Raya Longto as she straightens a polka-dot jacket in her new boutique. Longto, a native of India, waves her arms to take in the racks of women's clothing -- boldly styled miniskirts, blouses, jackets, trousers, and knickers, all designed by her college-age daughter, Constanza Smita Ontaneda Rehman Khedker (C.S.O.R.K., or Constanza Ontaneda, for short), and made by a coterie of Peruvian artisans.
Up close, the clothes reveal parts of their stories: inlays of intricate embroidery, panels of hand-loomed Inca cloth, hemlines edged in lace.
The shop abounds with tales, but the one Ontaneda wants known appears on the store's business card: "Social Service Combined with a Passion for Fashion Design." Ontaneda is studying fiber science and apparel design at Cornell University.
The idea for the store sprouted a few years ago during Ontaneda's summer trip to Peru, her late father's home country, after her graduation from Deerfield Academy. Volunteering at an orphanage, she met women who toiled at menial work because they couldn't earn a living with their sewing, weaving, and embroidery. In the fall, Ontaneda pitched her mother and her stepfather, Dennis Longto: Why not harness these women's talents and her own in a business that paid fair wages to local artisans?
C.S.O.R.K. is now a family enterprise committed to producing high quality at affordable prices ($65 to $130) and harming no species in the process. Ontaneda works with 36 Peruvian craftswomen, who are paid by the piece. Dennis Longto, an environmental biologist, manages the finances. Raya Longto, a court interpreter, minds the store.
"When Constanza first showed an interest in fashion, I told her it was too frivolous," Raya Longto says with a laugh . "Now I cherish what she is doing."
C.S.O.R.K., Women's Fair Trade Fashions, 8 Crafts Ave., Northampton. 413-303-1088 , csorkperu.com.