The beginning of My Mozambican Life, Part II was marked by an extended excursion into the field for a training workshop –a big step both professionally and personally.
Inhassoro is a sleepy fishing town about an hour north of where I live and it was the location for twenty day product development workshop that I helped plan and co-lead. The objective was to train 25 participants, representing 10 of our weaving groups to create new products using their traditional materials and technique. The goal was to create products that were smaller, more accessible for the local transient tourist market and quicker to make – thus more financially lucrative for the women.
Our design consultant, Sivuyile came in from Durban, South Africa to help with the workshop. Luckily he had worked with our groups on a previous training, so he was aware of many of the limitations of the Xindzala technique and the sometimes stubborn personalities represented amongst our weavers. (Visit his design company’s website here.)
Before we left for Inhassoro Sivu, Sonia and I went to a local carpenter to see if he could produce some wood accoutrements we wanted for potential jewelry designs. It was rather fun to be able to draw something then explain your vision and see what would come out of the wood shop.
After accidently breaking one form in half, Sivu and I mutually agreed that the new broken shape was actually more dynamic than our first ideas. So we modified.
The jewelry was meant to follow a mixed media trend – combining hand carved wood along with softer woven palm details.
Our first 3 days in Inhassoro, we worked with our top 5 weavers. These women were selected because they represented either our fastest, most talented or team oriented of our groups. We wanted people we knew would be able to pick up new ideas and also help instruct other weavers throughout the training. I will proudly say that this was my idea to bring in the top weavers for the first few days –it was a great opportunity to see early on what designs were working and which were not; saving us a lot of time and material. Plus, it meant that we had finished samples already made and available by the time the rest of the group arrived, thus avoiding the awkwardness and anxiety of tackling new products from scratch.
Then 20 more of our weavers arrived. The first week we concentrated on the accessory designs, consisting of bracelets, earrings and necklaces. Then the last week all attention was focused on producing bottle shaped vases. These vases were an exercise in interpreting 3 different wine bottle shapes – but using the same stitch that is normally used for wider flatter baskets. From the beginning we understood that each bottle was destined to be a bit different and unique. So we embraced the organic quality of the vases and encouraged the women to really look at the forms and follow what they saw.
We tried out a new stitch technique that had the potential to be faster and cleaner – however, after several samples, we decided that it was not unique enough and the quality was rather inconsistent. So back we went to the traditional stitch – which was a good decision since part of the objective of our project is to maintain the heritage of the traditional Xindzala.
Now you might ask yourself, what the heck did YOU do this whole time Camille? Wellll, mostly I just sat under the tree with the women either trying to learn how to weave, tinkering with designs, or occasionally offering my approval and advice. There was a lot of sitting and watching. Luckily the women are great singers, and they would often break into song or get up and dance.
We sat under this cashew tree:
I also had great company – since Sivu is rather lovely. It has been a long time since I actually got to fluidly speak English to an African person. And I will admit that it was with great relief and surprise that I rediscovered I have a sense of humor! It’s not that I haven’t laughed here, certainly there have been countless lost-in-translation moments, but actually being able to respond in a timely and witty manner – well, that was a novelty.
So the weeks passed with good company and creative juices flowing. At the end of the training we had many great samples produced. I’m sure we’ll have to continue working on quality and production, but there is real potential for our new goods. Personally, I found a great sense of satisfaction seeing several of my designs actually come to fruition.