Second only to agriculture, artisan activity is the second largest employer in the developing world. This important sector generates income, creates job opportunity, encourages community development, protects traditional techniques and safeguards cultural heritage. Although our focus is on women’s empowerment, we occasionally partner with men artisans who offer specialist skills and support to the women in their communities.
In many areas of the world, cultural heritage is fading. Globalisation is threatening the sustainability of traditional crafts in developing countries. Younger generations are becoming aware of more lucrative ways to make a living, meaning skills and knowledge that was traditionally passed down through families is threatened. We work to open new responsible markets for artisans that will enable these traditional livelihoods to continue.
Relationships with our artisan partners vary from group to group; some are established co-operatives with existing goals and plans, and some are individuals who have been brought together to form new creative groups. We pay 50% of the price of each order upfront, with the rest on completion. This approach allows the artisans to purchase supplies and tools beforehand and demonstrates our commitment to each project. Every single artisan receives a fair wage, flexible working hours and regular breaks, regardless of their location. We help women find a solution to employment that will accommodate their family life and other commitments, without resorting to unsafe, undignified and unreliable alternatives.
We believe in empowering consumers to make ethically informed choices. By ensuring our customers know exactly where their product was made and the story behind the artisan who created it, we are promoting a more positive, more conscientious society.
The Boneca de Atauro co-operative was formed in 2005 by Ester Zuercher, a Swiss artist who wanted to provide employment opportunities for women on Atauro Island, in East Timor. Many of the Atauro women are widows and raising children alone, as a result of the country’s unsettled history.
In East Timor, the ability to use a sewing machine was something the majority of women saw as a social status symbol. At that time, there was a social separation between the women who possessed the knowledge to use a sewing machine and thus the ability to earn money for their families, and those who did not.
Ester devised a project based around the concept of a ragdoll; handmade using tais, the traditional textile of East Timor. In October 2012, SWAGS World travelled to Atauro Island to discuss ideas for future collaborations. Together with them, we developed the idea of Harmony Dolls; a doll that would symbolise multiculturalism.
More than economic development, the Boneca de Atauro project connects artisans, boosts creativity and safeguards local tradition. On a deeper level, it encourages respect for women, promotes gender equality and enhances global partnerships through development.
When these women first came together, they had no bank accounts, no place to work, no equipment, and no training. They are an inspiring Timorese brand, raising the standards of employment opportunities and showing the youth of the island that anything is possible.
The Sepatu group is slightly different from our other co-operative partners; they are a collection of talented artisans who all work independently of each other. We were fortunate enough to meet the different artisans when we were searching for the various elements that make up SWAGS World® 3-in-1 Sandals.
Firstly, we required a talented silversmith who could produce our bra charm to the highest standards. We met Pak Nyoman Supandi and he was able to transform our ideas into reality!
Secondly, we needed an artisan who could make the leather soles of our sandals. With leather being widely produced across Java, we wanted to find someone with a talent for detail. Pak Gede was excited to work with us and he and his family have welcomed the SWAGS World® team with open arms.
Finally, we had to source weavers and tailors, who could use the traditional looms and sewing machines that form such important parts of Balinese culture. We were lucky enough to find six talented women to weave and sew our straps. Following our initial collaboration, we have recently worked with them for additional projects that utilise their special skills. These women live in remote villages on a small island, far away from the usual employment opportunities afforded to other artisans in Bali.
We feel humbled and honoured to have the opportunity to bring these artisans together and co-create products with us.
Sawaswati Papers was founded by Kali Sari, a professional chef from Australia who had been living in Bali since the early 1980′s. Kali recognised that the country she called home was seriously struggling with the amount of pollution in the air, caused by a growing and modernising society.
She wanted to counter-act the increase and came up with the idea of creating handcrafted paper from recycled materials, breaking the destructive cycle of pollution. She wanted to create paper that would not only have a positive impact on the surrounding environment, but also be a representation of the natural beauty and creativity of Bali itself.
With backing from Wisnu Foundation; a not-for-profit foundation concerned with the conservation of Balinese environment, Saraswati Papers was launched in 1995. All of Saraswati’s paper is handmade using 100% post consumer recycled paper, collected from schools, offices, hotels and homes around Bali. All the products are made in their garden-front studio by local, creative women, providing them with employment opportunities and boosting economic development in the area.
As well as creating handmade paper, Saraswati also produce other products that utilise recycled materials and fabrics. We work together with them to co-create our newsprint and magazine handbags; unique bags that ‘upcycle’ existing materials and give them a new purpose.