Tuesday, 24 August 2010
20th August 2010
Hoping today would be better, I set off towards the Barefoot head office which I figured from the directions was about a 20 minute walk away. After some waiting around I started to think the worst and imagine that it would be yet another day of wasted time, however I was soon introduced to the head of weaving, Anusha a little tightly packed ball of energy, and I knew that I would not be having an unproductive day. We jumped into the van and Priyanka, a lovely young woman from India who is working with Barefoot on textile designs for six months. The drive to the weaving centre took over an hour but it did not feel like it as conversation did not cease.
The weaving centre itself is the picture of perfect design. Designed by the Sri Lankan architect who was the right hand man to Geoffrey Bawa, it uses natural light to the full extent and the space inside is huge and open. Inside, they have fitted about 80 or so hand-weaving looms and they have about 20 bobbiners working non-stop. The women, as I would be if I had the opportunity to work in such a beautiful space, looked genuinely happy and grinned at me with every opportunity.
Priyanka was working on a new weave using Khadi, a handspun cotton from India. It was absolutely beautiful utilizing natural colours not often seen in the traditional Barefoot palate. Priyanka has already begun to understand and speak a little Singhalese, so she was able to communicate with the weaver and before long they had woven a foot of beautiful shawl.
I was able to interview a few of the workers and was surprised to find that they are all paid the highest of any where we have been to of yet. The bobbiner that I interviewed, Lasanti, is earning 12,000 rupees per month, this is unheard of for bobbiners who usually barely make the minimum wage, let alone double it. (We think the minimum wage in Sri Lanka is about 6,000 rupees, although no one that we have asked seems certain.) I also interviewed Lalani, who is a weaver – she earns 15,000 rupees per month, 5,000 of which she contributes to food for her family.
After speaking with Anusha, I learnt that these women are not the exception, and that some weavers have the ability to earn around 25,000 rupees per month as they work on a piece rate. This is truly amazing as this is the first factory/initiative that pays well above the recommend Asian Floor Wage – I was beginning to believe that this was an unobtainable goal that would only serve to frustrate the garment industry. It is great to be proved wrong.
For the rest of the day, Priyanka and I sat on the mezzanine above the workers listening to the cadence of the looms and talking about hand weaving (couldn’t think of a more perfect setting.) She showed me her work from university and after, she is a talented designer and incredibly skilled weaver and it is brilliant to see another young person so passionately committed to the promotion of hand-craft – maybe it isn’t hopeless after all.
I had another opportunity to show my prowess as a weaver and they were even more impressed than previously, all the women gathered around to see how it was done by a true master, only sniggering a little when my shuttle kept flying off the end and crashing to the floor. Sadly there is a very strict rule of absolutely no photos at all, and I could only watch as beautiful women wove beautiful fabrics without documenting their serenity.
We all arrived home happy and content with our days, a lovely contrast to last night. We started to get glammed up and Zoe the resident hair stylist put different kind of plaits in all our hair – looking hot we set off to the Barefoot café where they were having a blues evening with Slim and Slimmer. At Barefoot I was able to introduce the girls to Priyanka and they all hit it off. The band were amazing and when the rain stopped (yes, raining in Sri Lanka – how crap) we were able to dance the night away, with only a little hindrance from a strange man who thought the whole world loved his sleazy moves.