It wasn’t until I heard their stories that I realized the impact I could have. I learned about the mothers that didn’t get the education they hoped for; the daughters that looked up to their mothers for skills to pull them out of poverty; the grandmothers who had seen it all and wanted better for the younger generation. These stories were all intertwined in poverty, yet there was one thread that they all shared; one thing that would be their ticket to a better life. Weaving. This labour of love, which is both an art and a survival skill has created an ecosystem that is held together by culture and tradition. This craft is making a difference to over 3000 women in Africa, and there is an opportunity for us all to be a part of their story.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve personally succumbed to the lures and the instant gratification of fast fashion, fast furniture, fast decor, fast you name it, but what I’ve become acutely aware of in all my hyper-consumption was that the automated industry also comes with the fast depletion of resources, fast loss of traditional skills, rapid unemployment rates, and so on, all in the name of lower production costs so that consumers can get a bargain price. But is it really a bargain?
The Mother of All Skills
To understand the cost of the so-called bargain, let’s look at the mother’s story. Her hopes and desires in life are limited by her education. A child of poverty herself, who didn’t get the chance to finish school, meant that she married young so that her family could offload the responsibility of raising her to another man. She doesn’t want the same for her children, so she uses a skill that was taught to her by her mother to earn a living in a country where there is rampant poverty and soaring unemployment rates.
Seeing how she can create an income from weaving, she is inspired to pass down the tradition to her children. Beyond the sentimental bonding that happens when skills are passed down, knowing how to weave is insurance against poverty. In an economy where jobs are uncertain (and the ones available are exploitative and serve to feed the arguably toxic manufacturing industry), these useful skills are kept alive, and a demand for education in those skills increases, creating more opportunities for economic advancement.
Old Wives’ Tales
The grandmother, who did the best she could with what she had, can settle into her golden years knowing that her children and their children will have a better life because more people around the world understand that purchasing handmade products has the power to break generational poverty. The demand for handwoven products made by home industry artisans has the power to bring 3 generations together to create high-quality and unique works of art as they share stories and pass the time while they weave. A story that you can become a part of when you buy handmade.
Deal or no deal?
The cost of NOT buying handmade is so huge that any attempt to quantify it is futile. What price tag can you put on the loss of the tradition of weaving? What value can you assign to the loss of culture? How many dollars can make unsustainable practices OK? If you had to put a price on it, how much money would you charge for opting not to make a positive social impact?
Now that you know their stories, why not do your part to support handmade artisans? Go check out the African Heritage Collection at SimplychefUAE, where you can find products that support women’s employment, cultural preservation, and poverty alleviation in African countries.