Venturing back to the land of rivers to spend time with our partners and artisans is often a mixture of deep insight, difficulties, wonderment and profound appreciation. Rarely an easy country to travel in, Bangladesh is a land of wide deltas and vibrant rural communities located among rice paddies, coconut palms and banana trees. Contrasting this is the unyielding chaos of Dhaka, where life for many is grafted out among the tumult of the world's most densely populated city.
The artisan groups we partner with are dispersed throughout the country - from areas in view of the Himalayas all the way down to the Ganges deltas. Spending time with the artisans is one of our favourite things to do and is where we draw much of our design inspiration from. While we would love to visit every artisan group, the reality of distance and challenging road travel mean we see some groups each time. Each time we visit, an unspoken mutual commitment is made between us and the artisans - for them to continue to create beautifully crafted high-quality products and for us to continue to build a sustainable market for them to ensure they receive regular work orders.
Our artisan visits often begin with us meeting a large gathering in a rural village. To be able to connect with all the women at once is a special experience. We are met with a sea of smiles, deep curiosity and translated conversation - all wrapped up in a surprisingly intimate experience. It is also a special opportunity for profound gratitude to be exchanged. Not only do we receive thanks, but we have the opportunity to thank them for their incredible skills. We also have the opportunity to show them images of some of the homes and spaces in which the products find their final place. For them to be able to visualise the complete cycle from production to the customer helps instil a sense of pride in their ability and work.
In most of the artisan communities two to three generations of women practice the craft: mothers, daughters, aunts, grandmothers. These women work from their homes – alone or together – or from community workspaces, weaving our products around caring for their families and animals. Ancient skills moving as a thread through time and lineages. In many cases they are now providing the main income for their families, which gives them a powerful voice in the household and community. They are now able to be forthright about important decisions such as further education for their daughters, instead of them being married off at the age of twelve.
We relish the opportunity to speak individually with some of the women via a translator, to listen to their unique and diverse stories of progress and empowerment. In some cases we witness this directly. You may remember Mudjida (pictured below) from our visit last year. She handcrafts our macrame products and in the past 12 months she has been able to build and move into a new home and send her daughter to university. This is a beautiful example of true Fair Trade in action. It’s heartwarming to know that making our mandalas, tassel wall hangings and bags have given Mudjida the chance to improve her living conditions in ways that she could never have previously imagined.
There are many reasons we keep returning to spend time with our partners and the artisan communities; one crucial reason is that the experience reaffirms our purpose. When caught up in the busyness of the day-to-day running of a small business in Australia, we can inadvertently lose touch with our ‘Why?’. Being present with artisans – in their own environment, while they are crafting our designs – imbues the products with a sense of life. They become living pieces, not simply inanimate homewares objects. Each piece evolves slowly and patiently. The products become extensions of the artisans’ lives and efforts to empower themselves and their communities out of poverty. They become a real link between the artisan and the customer in a story that spans continents. A story woven into every fibre.
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