On our recent visit to Kenya, we made arrangements to visit a weaving cooperative who we started working with earlier this year. It was the first time we had come face to face with them, after having sampled some of our yarn basket bags with previously. Camilla felt that a training exercise would benefit both the weavers in learning about our designs, and for us to understand their capabilities and iron out the issues we had experienced with size and shape!
The drive from Nairobi was long... very long... five hours in total! We had decided on a short cut, ignoring google maps' suggestion for the supposedly 'longer' route. One and a half hours later on a long, un-tarmacked dust road we soon realised our mistake!
Stepping into the basking midday sun two hours late, the Weavers welcomed us warmly with their beautiful song and dance.
Visiting the weavers we work with is not as easy as one may think... there is lots of organising that takes place prior to each trip to ensure we make the most of our precious time together. We prepared clear design sheets and materials in the lead up, to give to the group to make the bags, and stopped en route to pick up a massive tin of biscuits and drinks as an offering. Of course, the main challenge being that they are in rural Kenya with little access to modern technology. But it is one of the most exciting, rewarding and connecting aspects of our business and brings alive strong friendships, collaboration and emotion, reviving our energy to work even harder.
Camilla (production expert!) talks to the ladies about our designs
The Cooperative's chairlady Patricia takes notes about the new designs
A little joke shared about us naming one of our new designs 'Mvinyo' (wine in Swahili!)
No, Holly the baskets are not for your head!
The women are extremely talented in their weaving, creating intricate patterns and combining stunning colours to achieve a beautifully finished basket. Traditionally in Kenya, these baskets are made by Mothers as wedding gifts for their daughters, but sadly the yarn weaving is a dying craft. In 2004, there were only 4 elders from this Weaving group remaining in the area who could weave these baskets! There are now 50 members in the cooperative reviving this dying art and new members joining to learn the skill of their ancestors.
The weavers with their basket designs
A stunning basket in the making
The process of making a basket in four stages
Camilla shows the weavers an example of a perfect design!
We spent the afternoon with the women talking about our new bag designs, showing them examples of the shape and size of basket to weave and listening to what they needed from us (yarn and tape measures!). The air was so humid, but only Camilla and I were the ones struggling with the heat! A photoshoot followed with the ladies giggling in shyness facing the camera but soon getting used to it and volunteering themselves when we needed more shots! We also couldn't resist their stunning baskets already woven and so picked out many to bring back to the UK for our Christmas fairs (and a few for ourselves of course!)
Connecting directly with these women from the very beginning of our working relationship is the most important thing we can do, to ensure that both parties understand one another's strengths and requirements from the start. Through our meetings and training, we are both able to gain knowledge. familiarity, bond and trust. In the long term, this enables us to continue developing and producing beautiful baskets using their expertise and skills, and for them access to market with the opportunity of growth and consistent orders.
We were thrilled when Vogue asked to feature one of the designs made by this group this Summer!
The Halima Basket Bag as seen in Vogue's centenary issue June 2016
After an emotional farewell we packed our baskets into the car and headed on our four hour journey back to the City. The next step with the group is to review the new designs they are currently making and reach out to new retailers interested in stocking the woven bags! We've talked about connecting cultures in a previous post, and it really is a beautiful woven story of our lives and theirs.
Thank you for having us Weavers of Wote!