Danger on the Path to Fair Trade

Updated: Jul 11, 2018

After much planning and preparation in February 2017, we were ready and excited to travel into the Assam region of India, to a village where we’d meet the local vegan silk weaving community. The Indian state of Assam is located in the country’s north east and shares international borders with Bhutan and Bangladesh. The state is home to 31 million people and the region receives large scale migration from Bangladesh. This has significantly altered demographics in India’s north eastern states, leading to social, economic, and political tensions between tribals and Bangladeshi Muslim settlers.


We always check government travel advisory websites like smartraveller.gov.au before our travels

As seasoned travellers, we always check our destinations on travel advisory websites, but when we saw that the region of Assam had multiple travel warnings, we were disheartened. Phone calls to the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed our concerns, but also highlighted the specific areas of conflict. Lucky for us, the areas of risk were far enough from our planned destination within the region, so we continued with our plans to visit the village, although with a heightened sense of alertness.


The region lush of Guwahati

Several flights later, we found ourselves in Guwahati, the capital of Assam. Sometimes, when you travel well beyond the familiar, you need to place a lot of trust into brief encounters and people you come across. With no mobile phones and no local language skills, we hopped into the vehicle that drove us for over an hour into this rural area in the region. Our itinerary was very tight, so although we’d had no sleep for the past 36 hours, we met with Shrivanti, a local resident and passionate advocate for the region’s fair trade silk, who travelled with us to the village.



Finders and Makers Founder Carina Tomietto and Shravanti Borah

During the journey to the village of Jarobhari, Shrivavnti told us how a village leader Mr Das, had worked tirelessly for decades, to help his community find sustainable forms of living. He could see that families were moving away from the village and closer to the cities in search for work. Mr Das, like the true Finder he is, knew that the centuries of weaving skills contained in his village, would be valued by western markets seeking ethical handmade textiles and this was worth fighting for.


As we approach our destination, we see a man giving us directions on a pushbike - addresses are hard to find in rural Assam. We follow the bike through the quiet dirt roads, occasionally stopping for ducks and goats, and continued meandering through the village. As we stop at our destination, we realise that it was Mr Das himself who had guided us on his push bike!


Mr Das

Traditional hospitality followed, where we were offered tea, cakes and salty snacks, before taking a walk through the beautiful lush green surrounds of the tidy village.



It was quiet and peaceful, with only the cries of baby goats in the distance, the murmur of families talking and the rhythmic sounds of the looms, which could be heard nearby. Looms can be found on the verandas of every family home in this area and historical records show weaving has been a tradition in the region since the 7th century.



Weaving was originally taught to ensure families could make their own clothes and textiles. Mostly, the women work the looms whilst the men are working the field. They sit to loom whenever they have spare time, around their other domestic duties. So, weaving is a constant work in progress.



We visited many homes, with all of the families making us feel welcome. We were fortunate to see the intricately assembled looms in every home’s veranda and were able to see the beautiful work in progress by the skilled operators.


We could see first-hand why Mr Das felt it was important that these skills didn’t disappear. His persistence in reviving and promoting this art form has paid off, in particular with the production of Eri Silk - also known as vegan silk - to produce the luxurious scarves that are a great ethical gift. Even Queen Elizabeth II owns one!



The production cycle is taken care of here in its entirety. From the rearing of the silk moths, the spinning of the silk and the weaving of the beautiful scarves, to the use of natural vegetable dyes to create the textiles’ stunning colours.


Wild tumeric grows in the region and is used to create the gold colour we see in the silk scarves

We are so happy to have made our way to this village all the way from Melbourne, Australia. Sourcing the beautiful silk scarves they make allows us to contribute to this village’s economic growth. It was wonderful to meet so many women Makers creating financial independence for their families, whilst enjoying an idyllic lifestyle in a beautiful part of the world. It was a magical experience indeed - one we will never forget and hope to repeat someday.

Until next time,

Carina


All pictures are copyright of Finders and Makers


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