Artisans weave their life stories into beautiful baskets for Gone Rural
Each unique piece in the Sitfwefwe collection tells the tale of it's maker - and of a brand that's uplifting the women of Eswatini
Working with the rural women of Eswatini (Swaziland), Gone Rural's contribution to community upliftment and the betterment of the woven crafts sector is well known.
Their latest collection, called Sitfwefwe after the thorn tree that grows in their artisanal weaving communities in rural Eswatini, is unique in that it's the product of a new artisan-led training programme.
The programme underscores Gone Rural's commitment to uplifting and upskilling their artisans by giving them ownership of their products.
Each piece, produced by the women artisans of Lavumisa, tells a unique story of its maker, their life, home and family — like a biography woven in grass.
Typically, Gone Rural uses an in-house designer to conceive the aesthetic of the baskets, later handing over to the weavers to fulfil the designs.
But this time was different, with Gone Rural investing in the women by training them in the design process and handing the reins over to them to empower others in the community.
The Gone Rural Weaving Academy involved the creation of a training programme by the artisans themselves in their specific weaving technique which they, in turn, got to teach other artisans from other communities.
The design part of the course included the use of mood boards, drawing, pattern transfer as well as various artistic genres that would differentiate the style of their baskets.
"Now I can tell other women that it pays to be patient, as I can design and produce the exact thing that I was thinking of," says artisan Ncamsile Zwane of her achievements.
The project has made real changes to the lives of the artisans. Working on a part-time basis from home, all Gone Rural artisans weave in between their household commitments as mothers and grandmothers.
With materials delivered to them by Gone Rural, they're able to sell their products back to the brand and cut out precious travel time.
"For rural women in Eswatini, there are very few employment opportunities, so it enables them the flexibility of earning an income while going about their day-to-day business," says Anissa Dove, a community development specialist from Australian Volunteers International with a background in fashion and textiles.
The impact of the work and the training has altered the quality of the women's lives. For Ntombi Vilakati, it meant buying a cellphone. Ncamsile Zwane bought a goat who has produced a kid; she also no longer has to make the 70km return journey on foot to deliver her goods, thanks to Gone Rural's delivery and collection system.
The Sitfwefwe Collection baskets are predominantly made from a wild, indigenous grass called lutindzi (Coleochloa Setifera). Lutindzi grows on the nearby rocky mountain tops and is sustainably harvested - cut above the roots - for regrowth. They also use sisal (Agave sisalana), the fibre of an invasive cactus, and in so doing keep its spread under control, as well as lukhasi (Festuca costata), an abundant reed found in the swampy wetlands of Eswatini.
Every basket has its own story to tell. Not only is each unique for its hand-woven inconsistencies, bearing the mark of the maker, but it also tells the story of that maker.
Busisiwe Langwenya's basket is an abstract representation of the Zomane mountain range near her home; the colour choice symbolises her contrasting emotions. Thembi Simelane's basket is a nod to the paw-paw tree outside her home and the rain which nourishes it, while the undulating woven tops of Ntombi Vilakati's basket are cued by the spot where she and her family gather to sit under the trees.
• The Sitfwefwe Collection of baskets is available through Gone Rural's suppliers. For more information, visit goneruralswazi.com
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