A few weeks back, we visited Medono, the village where we make our 365 collection. It is a proud community with a long tradition of hand-looming, passed on over many generations. Yet over the last two decades, the weavers there have been struggling to earn a living and many of them had to abandon the craft to pursue work in other fields. In our initiative we currently work with eight weavers and 3 support staffs, allowing them to earn a living wage and to continue their art form. In order to grow our community there and have a more sustainable impact in Medono, we needed to learn more about what had happened to the hand-looming sector and the current situation of the weavers that are left.
As we conducted our interviews in and around Medono, we slowly started to understand the changes that began about 20 years ago: For as long as people can remember, weavers in Medono have produced very similar designs. Once a certain kind of textile sold well, everybody made it. There hardly was any differentiation let alone innovation. This left the weavers very vulnerable to changes in demand as well as the rise of machine woven textiles. Once machine loomed fabrics became more common, weavers again and again lowered their prices until they reached a level that can barely sustain their families. As a result, most weavers went out of business. The rest that remained keeps struggling to make ends meet.
To us, this showed how important it was to continue innovating to keep the handloom tradition relevant to modern consumers. We started a discussion with our local initiative leaders on how to create a new, more complex fabric that could further increase their income and safeguard the demand for their work. Another interesting insight we gained was the impact potential of our weavers’ wives. Most of them are not working, mostly because of cultural reasons and lack of education. We realized that by getting them involved in our initiative and training them we can considerably increase the family incomes of our Medono artisans.
Soon we will return to Medono to test some new ideas and see how we can use these insights to further strengthen our initiative. Stay tuned to learn more about our progress in this wonderful community.