Basket weaving is a craft as old as mankind. This art of binding and plaiting natural fibres has been used throughout history for trading, storage and transportation, with anthropologists even finding evidence of basketry buried beneath the pyramids of ancient Egypt. This tradition, which spans millenniums, intrigued college friends, Camilla and Holly, who took their experience in design, production and retail to found The Basket Room.
Holly started her ethical journey in fashion on a road trip from South Africa to Nairobi, when her eyes were opened to another side of the industry whilst co-founder, Camilla, quit her fashion job in London to explore her dreams of sourcing intricate and locally crafted decorative products. The business partners explored Africa to find weaving communities which saw women plying their precious trade as their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers had taught them to. These extraordinary women use their skills to create intricately crafted baskets for multiple uses. From laundry baskets to beautiful color-block creations, The LuxPad finds out the story behind some of The Basket Room’s top products…
The Laundry Basket
Dedicated to protecting traditional techniques, Camilla and Holly searched across Kenya to locate the most talented community of weavers. Each stylish woven laundry basket is woven by members of the Kamba tribe in Kenya, a group renowned the world over for their exquisite handicrafts.
Virtually all of the weavers who make The Basket Room’s laundry baskets are women, and farming is the mainstay of most of Kamba weavers’ domestic life. Once married, a Kamba woman is gifted a piece of land from which to sustain her husband and her family. Hard work in the field alongside the rainy seasons brings cabbages, bananas and tropical fruit to the table, but as drought persists, these women must look to alternative ways of providing for their families and paying school fees.
The art of basket weaving and drought-resistant Kenyan sisal grass have provided the tools for a sustainable, fair trade business for these women of the Kamba tribe.
The Colour Block & Cloud Collection
The Colour Block and Cloud baskets are woven by members of one of Kenya’s largest communities of sisal weavers, founded in 1988, and over 2000 women are employed by this group which are split into thirty regional groups. The village where the cooperative is based is arid and dry, and its inhabitants have struggled to survive on the production of cash crops due to drought. Drought-resistant sisal and the weaving skills passed along from generations have therefore become vital resources to the people within these communities.
All weaving groups reside within a day’s walking distance of the cooperative’s office, where all accounting is done and basket orders are processed. Despite its extremely rural setting, group leaders communicate with buyers by mobile phone, however email access involves an hour-long journey to the nearest town.
Bike Baskets & Square Storage Baskets
Ghana is home to the hardy veta veta grass which is used for sturdier, stiffer baskets: woven bike baskets, square and rectangular storage boxes and baby Moses baskets. Each Ghanaian woven basket is a celebration of Northern Ghana’s abundant natural raw material and the age-old weaving skills of its people.
The Basket Room partners with 24 weaving cooperatives and over 1000 weavers in Ghana, both male and female. This portable and flexible craft means weavers can take their work home, completing their weaving around other household tasks and duties. A meticulous process, bicycle baskets and storage boxes generally take around three days to complete.
Linear Fusion Collection
The weavers behind this popular collection come from Kenya’s Eastern Region, and are especially skilled in producing repeat pattern storage baskets to exacting standards and dimensions. Living amongst the hills and pineapple fields in the south west of Nairobi, these artisans are led by their inspirational chairlady, Dorcas Ndinda, a single mother and greengrocer, in their brick workshop which is no bigger than a garden shed.
Dorcas founded this weaving cooperative when she began to struggle to feed her family off the crops she was planting and her earnings from selling what was left over. Aware of several women in the village who wove baskets; Dorcas approached these craftswomen and asked them to teach her their techniques. Soon after a thriving weaving cooperative was born, government support followed and Dorcas was trained in group leadership, health and hygiene and agricultural methods. As well as training for Dorcas, the ever-growing collective of weavers were given weaving training, including quality control and marketing.
Profits from Linear Fusion basket sales are reinvested for the benefit of the community. To date, these weavers have purchased a piece of land for developing into a village centre or for building rental properties on, and the weavers are also able to take out interest-free loans using proceeds from basket sales after wages have been paid, helping to meet unforeseen medical bills and school fees.
Each embroidered storage basket combines the skills of Kenyan weavers and Rwandan embroiderers in an all-female campaign for empowerment and economic development. These weavers would have once needed to travel to Nairobi to sell their sisal baskets, but The Basket Room now brings the work to them with regular and fairly paid basket orders.
Talented embroiderers add the finishing details to these woven baskets, working together in a small cooperative which has become a social enterprise. Belgian nuns living in Rwanda in the seventies trained many of these embroiderers, and today their work is as renowned as it was when their workshop was first established.
The Basket Room helps to ensure that daughters and granddaughters will continue to weave, and continue to benefit from the fair wages and dignified working conditions that come from working within a cooperate. Shop the full collection from The Basket Room at Amara.