Over three days in March 2009, Threads of Life and the YPBB Foundation hosted a group from PEKKA, the Women Headed Household Empowerment Program (http://www.pekka.or.id), to explore the potential for improving the marketing of the traditional textiles produced by their members’. PEKKA operates in eight Indonesian provinces, reaching more than three hundred poor villages, and has established hundreds of grassroots women’s organizations that collectively own several micro financial institutions.
Three weavers each came from the islands of Lombok (to the east of Bali) and Adonara (east of Flores), accompanied by PEKKA’s livelihood projects manager. On the first afternoon, Pung and the YPBB dye studio staff held the first half of a natural dye workshop. They started the indigo dye process by soaking fresh-picked leaves and didMorinda-red dyeing on pre-mordanted threads.
On the second day, the morning was spent visiting textile retailers across all levels of the market in Bali. Staff were interviewed at market stalls, a tourist handicraft ‘supermarket’, a textile shop, a tourist gallery, a Timorese art shop, and the Threads of Life gallery. To build their awareness of different market niches they could aim for, the PEKKA women asked questions prepared by Threads of Life about the materials and origins of the textiles being sold, whether they were bought from the weavers or a trader, who their customers were, and within what price range they made most of their sales.
At the Threads of Life collection, Lolet showed pieces from traditions with similar textiles to those brought by the weavers from their home communities. He explained how aspects of a tradition could be emphasized to make the work more marketable. He made it clear that a textile needed to fulfill several criteria – displaying a clear cultural value, maintaining quality of workmanship, being unique in the market in some way, holding its regional identity, and offering a strong point of interest for potential buyers – if it is to sell well. At a workshop back at YPBB’s studio, William and Tutut helped participants understand the connections between the market niches they had surveyed and Lolet’s marketability critera.
On the morning of the third day, there was a second dye session. The threads soaked in the Morinda on the first day were hung up to dry, then the indigo leaves soaked on the first day were removed, and the indigo dye vat was prepared and used. Finally, the oil mordanting process of the threads for the Morinda-red dye process was practiced.
A closing afternoon session looked at concrete next steps for each group. For the Lombok women, learning natural dye use will be key to opening up new markets and improving income, so a dye workshop will be held by the YPBB in Lombok. For the Adonara weavers, whose natural dye tradition is still intact, a village visit by Threads of Life field staff will look at the range of what is or was once made to see what can be sold of modified for sale to a wider market. We feel that there is a strong potential connection between Threads of Life and PEKKA and hope that an ongoing exchange between our two community networks can help improve textile sales for PEKKA members and credit union development among the communities Threads of Life works with.