Women make the indigenous textiles across Indonesia, and the pivotal role traditional textiles play in transmitting culture between generations means that women are central custodians for cultural survival. Practically, getting money into the hands of women is the best way to ensure household welfare. For these reasons, Threads of Life works directly with over 1200 women weavers and supports the development of more than 35 weavers’ groups on 12 Indonesian islands across the communities where we work.
The common question among these weavers is, “How do we maintain our culture and identity, and make a living at the same time?” Threads of Life helps to answer this question. Our business model uses real markets to reward cultural integrity, promote conservation of the environment, and empower families in some of the world’s poorest places to lift themselves out of poverty.
All Threads of Life textiles are produced by traditional methods, with only those innovations by modern weavers that fit the local cultural framework. Occasionally the women ask us, “What motifs and techniques should we use?” We always reply, “What did your mother and grandmother do?” Their textiles are not copies of classic antiques, but the latest evolutions of living traditions, re-felt and re-imagined by the women who weave them.
Threads of Life encourages weaving communities to redevelop lost techniques of weaving and natural dyeing. We provide economic and technical support while cooperatives research and rediscover local practices, a process that can take years to complete. The result is a sustainable, natural, traditional method of textile production, with complete cultural integrity. The process and the results move the weavers to great pride of ownership, and inspire the extraordinary quality of their work.
Conserving Dye Plant Ecologies
Aesthetically and economically, natural dyes are at the heart of Threads of Life’s mission. But buying naturally dyed textiles is not an end in itself; our support for natural dyes is also a means to address environmental conservation. Rising demand for naturally dyed textiles can quickly lead to the scarcity of natural dye materials. Depletion of local forests and loss of diversity in managed gardens threatens subsistence farmers across Indonesia. Only a committed business partner who offers long-term financial security over short-term gain can provide the incentives for sustainable forest management.
Threads of Life and its partner organization, the Bebali Foundation, take on that role everywhere we work. Our field staff works with local cooperatives to develop sustainable harvesting techniques and efficient use of natural resources, and performs basic botanical research at our dye garden and studio in Bali.
Throughout the dry season from April to October, members of the Threads of Life staff make at least fifteen trips to the field, to visit weavers in their homes. During the rainy months, most villagers leave their looms to work in the fields—the source of their basic livelihood—while floods and landslides often make travel impossible. Our staff members stay in the field for up to three weeks at a time, buying textiles, discussing quality control issues, negotiating prices, placing orders, and paying advances. We also get to know our partners in the villages, research their cultures, and help them to develop traditional handmade objects into marketable handicrafts.
Threads of Life’s research indicates that a weaver truly maximizes the value of her labor by working to the highest standard of quality. We consistently encourage weavers to boost their incomes through quality, not quantity. In partnership with the Bebali Foundation, we develop and facilitate workshops and training programs that help cooperatives develop their organizations, improve their marketing skills, and increase their market access.
News of all our fieldwork can be read in the Field Notes section under the Stories menu.