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Delia Carlota Cano, who founded her own sportswear manufacturing company in Seattle, dies at 96

Delia Carlota Cano’s life has been a series of remarkable journeys. Some were as vast as the distance from his hometown in rural Peru to Seattle in 1957 – a journey that involved four long flights with three young children in tow, speaking no English, heading into an unknown new life. Some were as tiny as a needle travels down a seam, in the meticulous garments she made over a lifetime of professional sewing that included years of running her own sportswear business. from his Capitol Hill basement, making outdoor apparel and accessories sold by REI.

Cano died of sepsis on October 1, just weeks shy of turning 97e birthday. A collection of memorabilia at his memorial service earlier this month poignantly told the story of his life: a small brown Singer sewing machine, acquired shortly after arriving in Seattle; an exuberant purple hat, adorned with a flower made by Delia; a range of delicate porcelain tea cups, representative of a vast collection; a series of photos in which she always seemed happily surrounded by her family.

“She sewed and sewed all her life,” her daughter Rose Cano told the memorial. Born in 1925 in a remote village in southern Peru, Delia Carlota Cano left school early to help her single mother. her first job, at age 11, was mending silk stockings for 10 cents a fare. By the age of 20, she was a successful seamstress and tailor in Peru. A black-and-white photo on display at the memorial, taken in Lima around 1950, showed an elegant young woman in a beautifully fitted jacket, gloves and a pulled-up hat, gazing confidently at the camera.

Cano and her husband, Rodolfo Cano, had three children when they decided to move to Seattle; Rodolfo, who had a longtime friend at the University of Washington who agreed to sponsor his visa, came here in 1956. Delia and the children followed a year later after he led the way. She quickly re-established her sewing business, initially from a small boutique in Lake City, and with her husband held regular “Spanish Club” meetings to teach conversational Spanish. Many prominent Seattleites frequented the club – among them Lloyd and Mary Anderson, founders of REI, who offered Delia a job in the store’s administrative office in the early 1960s.

This work did not last long. Her son Rodolfo Jr. (Rudy) recalled his mother describing how she looked at some of the products REI was making then: stuff sacks for sleeping bags, rain ponchos, gaiters. “She studied the items to see how they were made, and she realized that was something she could do.” The Andersons agreed and Delia Cano Sportswear Manufacturing was born – initially just Cano working piecework in his basement on Malden Avenue, and eventually grew to employ up to 14 workers at a time on industrial sewing machines .

“These things were really fast!” remembers his daughter Rose. “I was afraid to go there. It was like a thundering freight train. Among the many items made by his mother: special climbing gloves for local climbing legend Jim Whittaker and then Sen. Robert Kennedy, who climbed Mount Kennedy (in Yukon, Canada) together in 1965.

Rudy, who worked in the company as a teenager (like many other family members), remembers the employees as “people from all walks of life,” including refugees from Vietnam, connected through St. -Joseph nearby. His mother was, he said, “a great boss” – she bought her employees lunch once a week, served cakes for people’s birthdays, listened to their problems. “She always had time for people.”

The business continued into the early 1980s when overseas manufacturing ended the REI connection. But Cano continued to sew, working for a small company that made motorcycle clothing. And even in her 80s, she was designing clothes for people with disabilities – ponchos, for example, suitable for people in wheelchairs. Throughout her life, she has made beautiful clothes for her family, including a wedding dress for her eldest daughter and a special ball gown for her granddaughter Melissa Hoyos, inspired by a dress worn by Jennifer Lopez in the movie “Selena”.

“I think we took for granted what an amazing seamstress she was,” Hoyos said, recalling happy times watching the movie with her grandmother, pausing the film to examine the details of the dress. The shimmering silver dress was prom-ready: “so beautiful.”

Although busy in her career, family always came first with Cano raising five children. She was a tireless advocate for her youngest, Guadalupe (Lupita), born with Down syndrome in 1968, and all people with disabilities. For many years, she raised funds, volunteered her time (for The King County Bow she has mentored new Spanish-speaking parents of children with disabilities), attended conferences, worked with several organizations, and lobbied in Olympia to help pass laws, including the landmark Education for All Act in 1971. She has was a founding member of Lifetimea local organization that helps family members network for loved ones with disabilities, and contributed her family’s story to the book “Becoming Citizens: Family Life and the Politics of Disability,” published by the University of Washington Press.

At her memorial, her children and grandchildren spoke, remembering her as a woman with an enormous capacity for love. Her daughter Venus Bravo De Rueda, describing her mother as a big personality in a small package, simply said, “She made room in her heart for everyone.”

Cano, whose husband Rodolfo died in 1995, is survived by four of her five children (her eldest, Delia Angelica, who died in 1992), nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. For those wishing to remember her with a charitable donation, the family suggests the Puget Sound Down Syndrome Community.

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