Collective, Craft, Design, Fairtrade, Kiss House Team, Makers, Sustainability | 17 September 2020
Snow leopards and bike baskets that do good.
Handwoven bike baskets made of Elephant Grass and my inspiring experience in the Himalayas, by Emma Bradbury.
Following my experience working with a craft-based cooperative in the Himalayas (more below) I was inspired to read about The Basket Room on the Bell’s Bicycles website and was delighted when the folks at Bell’s said I could share it.
In the Summer of 2009 in the middle of my Masters in Knitted Textiles at the Royal College of Art, I spent 6 weeks in Ladakh, India. During this time, I worked with UNESCO India and the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust (SLC-IT). My role, together with Claire-Anne O’Brien another RCA student, was to develop a range of knitted products with rural village communities. These products had to be made from the materials that were readily available to the communities, such as yak hair, goat hair and sheep fleece spun into hand knitting yarn by the villagers.
“We worked with the women of these Himalayan communities to create knitted animals, based on wildlife found in Ladakh.”
The aim of SLC-IT is to support village communities who live within the snow leopard habitat. Many of the villagers’ income depends on livestock which is sometimes killed by snow leopards entering villages as you can imagine this creates tension and hardship which has in the past lead to villagers trapping and killing the endangered snow leopards. Claire and I worked with the communities to ensure that the knitted products created in our workshops, would help create a fund to compensate for the loss of livestock.
We had to develop this concept from its grass roots. Our brief was that the knitted products were to be sold on the Himalayan trekking routes and within Home Stays to tourists. The products needed to be small enough to be carried and fit into tourist back packs. We worked with the women of these Himalayan communities and decided to create knitted animals based on wildlife found in Ladakh such as, the Ibex, Yak and or course the Snow Leopard. Other designers have since followed our lead and the project has evolved and thrived.
“What I remember most from the project was the smiles, laughter, warmth and generosity of all the communities we worked with.”
Ladakh is the highest plateau in India at 3000m above sea level. The landscapes and vistas were insanely beautiful. The intensity of the sun and the brightness and brilliance of the white snow against the pure blue skies will always stay with me. The experience informed my final major project at the Royal College of Art where I created knitted accessories for fashion, influenced by the Himalayan colours. I experimented with bleaching and discharge printing to emulate the intense strength and power of the sunlight at altitude.
What I remember most from the project was the smiles, laughter, warmth and generosity of all the communities we worked with. I admired the strength and resilience of the female communities and the love that resonated within them. So many positive outcomes flourish from collaborations.
“I admired the strength and resilience of the female communities and the love that resonated within them.”
Knowing how enriching the collaborative experience is for both the designers and rural communities I was excited to read about The Basket Room collaboration project in Ghana on the Bell’s Bicycles website. Bell’s Bicycles is an award–winning bike shop in Hastings which was established in 2008 to source the most beautiful, easy to ride and simple to maintain bikes from around the world. As I provide art direction at Kiss House, I’m always on the lookout for ethical and sustainable products and makers who promote sustainable living, both Bell’s and The Basket Room fit the bill. I appreciate Bell’s support of the work of collaboratives, love their vision of a bicycle as a work of art — as a lover of great design this resonates with me.
Bell’s supply bike baskets hand-crafted by makers of The Basket Room weaving collective in North Ghana, helping preserve the weaving heritage of villages while ensuring fair wages and dignified working conditions. The bike baskets are intricately designed and highly functional. Bell’s kindly gave us permission to share their story.
The Basket Room — bike baskets that do good.
We can’t remember when we were last so happy to see the delivery guy at Bell’s — receiving our first delivery of bike baskets from The Basket Room was a special day!
“Each basket produced is a step towards a more stable life for the members of the collective.”
Designed in London and Oxford by the super talented Holly and Camilla and hand woven by weaving collectives in Northern Ghana, each basket produced is a step towards a more stable life for the members of the collective that makes them. In Northern Ghana most farmers face difficult times when the weather is poor, and it is these farmers who make up most of the membership of the collective. They rely on the additional income raised through weaving during the dry season to cover their basic living costs.
“Bold colour combinations and a beautiful and robust product.”
We think it’s a winning team! Bold colour combinations designed by Holly and Camilla and a beautiful and robust product woven with the skill and care of the weavers. The result is a beautiful product that makes a real difference to the lives of many Ghanaian farmers.
Creating each basket is quite a process and can take up to three days to complete. Each bike basket is handwoven from a wild grass, locally known as Elephant Grass. It is then naturally dyed using extracts from tree bark and vegetables. The grass is split and rolled by hand, then dyed by boiling it in water with the natural dye materials.
“We started as a small group but now we’ve grown not just in numbers, but also as individuals. Our members are able to support their families and supplement the income they get from farming. To everyone that buys these baskets, we say Asante sana sana (Thank you so so much).” Madam Dorcas — Chairlady.
This is a high-quality product. The baskets themselves are strong and tightly woven. They are secured to a bike using thick leather straps and can resist British weather conditions. Each basket is supple which will lead to less breakages or fraying (a common problem when wicker baskets get knocked or crushed in bike parks). If you think you’ll use the basket for heavier loads, we would recommend using it with a basket support.
“Working in this way is a humbling experience that provides insight and understanding into each other’s cultures that can only benefit and enhance the lives of all involved.”
Bell’s are thrilled to be stocking The Basket Room baskets and wish this fantastic company every success. Collaborations like these facilitate exchanges in friendship, trust, education, knowledge and support. Working in this way is a humbling experience that provides insight and understanding into each other’s cultures that can only benefit and enhance the lives of all involved. It is so important to support projects that empower communities and provide the tools and know-how required to create a sustainable livelihood.
To find out more about the organisations we’ve mentioned, please use the links below.