World of Weaving: the report

 

On Wednesday afternoon we drive to the next project, which is scheduled for today. After we have given our phone with Grace, our contact at World of Weaving, on the other end of the line to the driver, he takes us to the right place. Between high-walled houses and heavily guarded gated communities we suddenly end up in a place that does not directly seem to fit in this setting. In the middle of Eyasi road lays the Nafasi Art Space (NAS). On this complex you'll find different artists being given a place to do what they do best: painting, sculptures, dance, being productive and exhibiting. The NAS is set up by the Dutchman Jan van Esch. With this project, he wants to create a place where artists can do their artistic thing, but is also able to mirror themselves to other artists. The artist life is often an isolated life in Tanzania, we learn today. The Nafasi Art Space brings the artists closer together.

Since 3 months Van Esch' artists enclave is also the home of World of Weaving. In a place of about 40 square meters on the side of the NAS, a sea-container reminding us most of a large cage, all tools needed are in place to make the cotton that is delivered into high-end woven products. Pillow covers, scarves and even a handbag line in the near future. In2Afrika absolutely lacks the knowledge to explain the technical side of things for you here. We will give you a glimpse into the world of weaving, through the eyes of the layman.

 

The WOW-workshop is full of activity when we arrive around noon. Large spools of cotton, dyed or undyed, are processed into hig-quality woven products by the women of WOW in a very labor intensive process. At the same time there is a young lady from London, who's very busy with designing the bag-line that will have to lift World of Weaving to a higher level in the future. In addition to this location within the NAS, which is mainly used for management, product development and designing, there are other locations, which are more of production areas, where most of the production is realized.

Grace runs us through the production process. Two things catch our eye directly. In the first place the fact that the work that the WOW-woman do is onehundred percent handwork. A very labor intensive process, where literally every thread manually ends up in the right place. Second, the standard inside WOW is very high. Only the best quality is good enough. When a mistake is made, everything had to be done all over again. Better to do everything all over, than having an unevenness in the product, which, moreover, we do not notice at all, when Grace shows it to us. From minute one we're seriously impressed.

 

World of Weaving, organization and structure

Rachel is the founder and director of World of Weaving. For years she had her own art gallery, later accompanied by a craft shop. Four years ago, he owner of the land where her company was based, suddenly sold the lot to a new buyer. For Rachel this was the time to start a new challenge. She began working on an idea in which the production and sale of high-quality, hand-woven products would be central. The Ifakara Womens Weaving Association (IWWA) she had worked with in the time of her gallery would play a centrel role. The production would be on behalf of these women. In 2012 a start-up grant was requested from the European Union, which was awarded in 2013. At that time, WOW could start working. First step in the process was retraining the Ifakara women. Grace went of for six months to prepare the women for a special training of a Belgian weaver and two students of the Dutch university TU Delft. This preparation was not without any struggle. At a certain point, the Ifakara woman thought they knew enough. That training of those white westerner was no longer needed, was there idea. If you want to help us any further, just give money, was the message. But Grace and WOW persisted and eventually investing in training for the women would be worth every single minute. Production started slowly and was moving towards the point where we are now. The production is almost optimal, built entirely on Tanzanian weaving-women.

 

Two birds with one stone

Just like we did, one might then wonder what exactly is the social development within this professional business? Make no mistake, in the first place World of Weaving is a business. “We have worked on the product for years. It was consciously focused on high-quality hand-woven items, which are therefore intended for the upmarket segment.” Grace talkes to us about the business side of her business. "To ensure that these products could be produced, the Ifakara women were trained by World of Weaving. We think that, within the next three months, we will optimalised production for our business. All small, starting mistakes are then deleted from the production part of the process. At that time, the backside of the business is figured out, and we can fully focus on the front." At that time, marketing / sales will be the main mode for World of Weaving. Finding customers, selling products and simply making money.

Where does social development have its part in the story then, we wondered? In the world of development, the combined terms "money" and "earning" are often seen as dirty words. But more and more people are finding out that a commercial business can be a more than fertile base for social development. World of Weaving and her social development is also built in this way.

 

In Ifakara, a town 500km from Dar es Salaam, weaving was already introduced decades ago, according to our information around 1983, by the Danes. The Danes previously left their looms behind, which are still being used for weaving. So weaving already has already a relatively long tradition in East Africa, the expertise is already present in this group of women. What World of Weaving mainly adds to this are two things. Firstly it retrains the women as stated earlier, so they reach a level that enables them to produce high quality products for a high-end market. So they add a bit of education, which offers this group of women just that little extra feature. Second, it facilitates the women in selling the products so that they actually can convert their actual skill in earning their own living. WOW is simply empowering. It stimulates and supports the weavers in Tanzania so that they can use their craftsmanship to actually generate an income. What it also on a social level is simply being a neat employer. Treat your employees properly, make sure there are structured workinghours, maintain a healthy working environment and pay decent wages. In Tanzania this is all less obvious, but WOW does it all.

Of course WOW is a company in the first place, that also exists to make money. But there are many advantages to let social development and business go hand in hand. A development linked to a company will grow much faster than a development project purely dependent on fundraising and donations from outside. The incentive to generate income is much more present in a business, because that is the essence of business. In addition, the growth of the project is linked to the success of the business. The more products WOW can sell, the greater its production will be and the more women are therefore able to provide for their livelihood through WOW. Because there are always incentives within a company towards growth and getting bigger, that there will always be those samen incentives for the social development of the project. This can be best summarized under the term "two birds with one stone." Combining social development and business meets some sceptisism sometimes, but World of Weaving shows that this combination can go hand in hand.

 

After an afternoon of cotton spindles, looms, patterns and hand-woven scarves, it's time for In2Afrika to say goodbye. World of Weaving a project which maybe turned out to be a little different than previously thought. The major role that business plays rang some alarmbells wth us in the beginning. Was this earning money over the backs of Tanzanian weavers? But as we said, the link between business and social development has more advantages than disadvantages. With our foundation we will now be looking for a way in which we can support WOW.