Photo Journal: Swaziland

Photo Journal: Swaziland

In November 2015, our founder Nina traveled to Swaziland, Africa, as part of our commitment to furthering brand transparency by forming personal relationships with and educating designers, consumers and artisans. She was selected by Swaziland Fair Trade (SWIFT) as one of three people to speak on a panel about ethical and sustainable business models and the power of social media when building a social enterprise.  SWIFT is a one-of-a-kind organization that brings artisans, makers and creators across the country of Swaziland together to empower Swazi producers and communities socio-economically, through training, trade, and advocacy. Nina was selected to speak on the panel alongside Ariela Suster, Founder of Sequence Collection, and Kathleen Holland, Founder of KMH Associates and Co-Founder of Trade + Impact

Nina, Ariela and Kathleen spent seven days visiting textile studios, observing intricate fabrication techniques, and meeting the craftspeople, whom she describes as some of the kindest, most inspiring artists she has had the pleasure of working with. Seeing firsthand the skill and effort executed into every textile created, as well as taking the time to get to know the people behind the pieces, are exactly the kind of actions Fashionkind takes to spotlight and celebrate key members of the fashion industry who oftentimes remain anonymous. This Journal comes straight from Nina herself: a photographic documentation of the power of fashion.

After spending a week in Capetown, South Africa, Nina and Ariela met Kathleen in Johannesburg and were picked up by Daniella Mastracci, the Training and Operations Manager at SWIFT. The four then drove five hours across the border to Swaziland.

We stayed a few different places in Swaziland, including Daniella’s home. This is the view from her back door.  It was so peaceful. I wish I could be in this hammock right now!

Daniella's home is located on Malandela’s Farm, a family-run complex that includes a bed & breakfast, restaurant, pub, offices, studios, the family’s homes and more.

This wall at Malandela’s Farm is part of Swaziland’s leading performing arts venue, House on Fire. It was established in 2000.

While at Malandela’s Farm, the group visited the studios of Gone Rural and Khokho. Reflecting on the complex itself, Nina says, "It is so beautiful: there is magic around every corner."

Gone Rural, started in the 1970s, was founded by Jenny Thorne to use handcraft as a way to empower the women of Swaziland. Today, Gone Rural works with more than 750 artisans in 13 groups across Swaziland, ranging from from young women to gogos, or grandmothers. Gone Rural collaborated with Nest, an advocacy institution that advances the fashion and home industry’s informal workforce, to create the Khohko brand. 

Khokho's handcrafted bags combine leather workmanship with traditional Swazi weaving techniques. Khokho (meaning great-grandmother in Siswati) aims to preserve and elevate the craft while creating income-generating opportunities for its artisans; all of the artisans receive a percentage of every sale. I watched these bags be handcrafted by master artisan Soniso, who was one of the most passionate, proud artisans I have ever met.  He walked me through each step of the process, explaining to me the importance of each piece.

Just down the road from the complex, the group visited Baobab Batik: social enterprise in Swaziland, founded in 1991 by Els Hooft. Inspired by her passion of creating batiks, Els also wanted to offer sustainable work opportunities for women. Since then Baobab Batik has become a successful enterprise employing 35 artisans full time.

On my visit to Baobab Batik, I learned the batik process, which entails tracing a pattern onto plain white fabric, covering the pattern with melted wax, dyeing the fabric, dewaxing the fabric to reveal the pattern that had been covered with wax and drying the fabric – it is quite the process! I walked outside and saw this beautiful image of finished textile drying in the sun, and I knew I had to capture it.  I love the movement, textures and colors.

Next the group traveled to the hilltop farm and weaving studio of Rosecraft Weaving, which began as Rose Roque’s hobby, but 35 years ago turned into a business that still thrives today.  At Rosecraft, female artisans create luxurious hand-woven, crocheted, and knitted homewares and fashion products. Fibers used are locally sourced and eco-friendly, and include mohair, merino wool, organic cotton, silk, and bamboo.

Here are some behind-the-scenes looks at the beginning stages of the many-stepped creation process at Rosecraft. Handlooms are such amazing structures. I can still hear the click-clack that they make with each row of textile created -- I love that sound. As always, the women are hard at work.

This artisan was so excited to get her picture taken! While we always ask permission to take photos, I don’t think a single person turned us away. Contrarily, they would smile and ask to see the camera so they could see themselves in the photo -- it was so much fun for them and for us!

After visiting Rosecraft, the group headed to Piggs Peak in Northern Swaziland to visit Coral Stephens, a hand-weaving studio founded in 1949, renowned for its alternative design, vibrant color, and use of mohair fabrics.

We ventured into the mountains in Swaziland to Piggs Peak to visit Murrae Stephens, owner of Coral Stephens. She took us to her favorite lookout spot, where we set up chairs and enjoyed wine and snacks while we watched the sunset. How stunning is this view? Can you believe we get to live in this amazing world?!

Coral Stephens proudly maintains the same weaving techniques it adopted when the business first began 67 years ago. Each piece, handmade by an exceptionally skilled staff, is completely unique.

These women were in charge of dyeing the yarn. They took me through the whole dyeing process, which has to be done just so to ensure the correct colors are produced. Here they are analyzing a batch they just completed to see if they need to dye it again or not.

I love this photo. An amazing woman in front freshly-dyed yarn that will be created into intricate handmade rugs. She was brushing the raw mohair to prepare it to be spun, which transforms it into a useable yarn and is done before it is dyed.

You can’t quite see it, but in that water is yarn being dyed at Coral Stephens. After being spun, the yarn was hung in the hot dyeing liquid from wooden poles. You can see the steam coming off the water; it was hot just standing next to it!

Have you ever seen so many different colors and shades of yarn?  Each is hand-dyed by master artisans. There were rows and rows of them – it was amazing. I couldn’t get enough of the vibrant colors, but I felt so small next to the huge yarns! (Okay, I’m 5’3”…I pretty much always feel small.☺)

You've likely seen this photo before. While visiting Coral Stephens, Zodwa caught my eye.  She was bashful yet intrigued and is a true master of her craft.  She was shy at first but then opened up and let me film her working. This photo was taken after she had finished for the day and we were caught laughing with each other. This was one of the most special moments of my trip and an impactful reminder of the importance of the work we are doing at Fashionkind.

The group took two days to see get to know the country and its wildlife as well. The Swazi terrain consists mostly of high plateaus and mountains. 

While in Swaziland, we took advantage of our surroundings and went on a safari, which I had never done before. The country was experiencing a severe drought while we were there, so virtually all of the watering holes were dried up, which was sad to see.  Despite this, we saw a family of lions, a couple rhinos and a few elephants.  One of the elephants, pictured above, started charging at our van!  A clear sign, perhaps, that we were in his/her territory.

On our way to the safari grounds I could see the clear divide between the sugar cane corporations and the wildlife preservations.  The sugar cane fields were the only ones with irrigation.  They were lush, green and abundant. Contrarily, the safari grounds were extremely dry and cracked, seemingly an unfortunate indication of priorities.    

This is my favorite photo from my trip -- or, perhaps, ever. The sun was setting on the day as I was leaving Coral Stephens, and I caught a glimpse of one of the artisans heading home for the evening.  The warmth that this photo exudes almost makes me feel like I was right back in Swaziland.  I wish I were.

While in Swaziland, I visited a psychic and a tarot card reader -- two firsts for me.  Each told me I was put on the earth to change the world, and that I would make a large impact on the fashion industry at large.  I couldn't believe it.  Who knows, maybe they were told the work I do before hand, but I would like to believe otherwise.  I believe my soul and my being at their very core are deeply and directly connected to Fashionkind, the work that we do, and the impact we have and will continue to make.  The tarot card reader told me my journey to Swaziland would change my life.  She was absolutely right.