Society COLLECTIVE began with Elinor Cripps’ dream of maintaining economic freedom for the indigenous Wayuu women of Latin America. Meet Elinor and discover the extraordinarily beautiful bags that she has brought to Australian shores…
Mochilas are handwoven bags used by the Wayuu to carry food and water across the desert. Every Mochila takes up to one month to make while the weaver takes care of the animals, gathers water, cooks and walks long distances from one community to the next always searching for water, the highest valued good.
Society COLLECTIVE started with an accidental journey to the Colombian desert where I ended up spending a lot of time with the Wayuu. The Wayuu are an indigenous, matriarchal, nomadic culture who roam the deserts between Colombia and Venezuela. They are an incredibly vibrant and passionate culture, having never been subjugated by the Spanish. I was lucky enough to form strong friendships with the Wayuu and be welcomed into their community for a few months.
The Wayuu live in one of the poorest regions of Latin America, and make some of the most beautiful bags I have ever seen… In recent years, the Wayuu way of life has seriously come under threat from overseas mining interests. The Mochilas are a means by which the Wayuu women can maintain independence both economically and culturally.
Every Mochila is a unique piece of art and is the personal and artistic signature of the woman who made it. This weaving tradition stems back thousands of years, and the colorful bags are canvases that reflect the weaver’s worldview.
Mochilas represent a circular cosmology where there is no before and after, but only threads of life spun from one cycle and woven into the next. The surrounding desert, animals, and natural elements all serve as major sources of inspiration for both design and color, such as the patterns of wind on sand, soaring birds of prey, the blazing sun, cactus flowers or rare waterholes.
We base our business model on fair trade practices. This means using our business to tackle poverty and empower producers. We have ensured that the Wayuu receive a premium price for their products and invest additional profits into a nearby school. Most importantly, we have created a transparent business model that gives the Wayuu access to democratic business-making decisions. They set the price, the nature of working hours and conditions as well as the quality of the product.
We are also proud of our commitment to the empowerment of women. By employing Wayuu women to continue their traditional crafts, society COLLECTIVE has helped contribute to their independence both financially and spiritually. Nicholas d. Kristof, explains: “‘Women hold up half the sky,’ in the words of a Chinese saying, yet that’s mostly an aspiration: in a large slice of the world, girls are uneducated and women marginalized, and it’s not an accident that those same countries are disproportionately mired in poverty and riven by fundamentalism and chaos…focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism. The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.”
The turning point that made me start Society COLLECTIVE was when my bag broke in Columbia. I had been carrying a mass produced bag that had, not surprisingly, barely lasted six months. One of the Wayuu women I was staying with at the time immediately gave me the Mochila she was carrying (I’ve had it ever since). In that moment she gave me a bag that was more than just another mass produced, designed-to-fall-apart, part-of-the-chain-of-consumption product. She gave me something that was part of her story and her world.
Every product has a story, and its up to consumers to decide whether that story is empowering or not. My broken bag, and my new mochila, made me realize I could provide a product that empowered the Wayuu and give fellow Australians a bag that actually lasted, had an empowering story and was incredibly beautiful!
I did my Honours in history at the University of Sydney (Nineteenth Century Hawaiian Mariners on Board Euro-American Whaling Ships… making anyone excited?!) While at university I studied feminism and environmental history. As much as I love writing about these subjects, I wanted to actually implement my ethics in the real world. Society COLLECTIVE has given me the opportunity to do just this.
My advice to other young designers is to stop putting off starting something new. People (myself included) come up with many reasons to not start something – the timing is not right, I’m not sure if I’m ready, it all seems too risky, I’ll do it later, I’ve never done this before… You will never actually know if you are ready to do something until you just do it. I’ve found that with a little hard work, faith in yourself and perseverance anything is possible.
When I’m not working I’m doing sweet, sweet nothing! Well, that’s when I’m not out in the vegie garden hunting caterpillars with a vengeance all in the name of my tomatoes and kale. I’m also a keen surfer spending more of my time in the ocean than on land. I get land sickness!
I couldn’t live without the ocean, organic vegies and my very hairy man.
Right now I am listening to Beirut – check them out!
The last ethical product I purchased was my Sseko sandals (www.ssekodesigns.com). Sseko sandals are made by high school female graduates in Uganda so they can generate enough income to go on to university. Just like society COLLECTIVE, Sseko strives to ensure customers understand that every product ‘has a story.’ I admire Sseko for their commitment to female empowerment and ethical manufacturing.
My favorite Bluecaravan seller is Idear Papergoods. I bought all my Christmas cards from them last year – her stuff is so clever and witty! I love it! I’m hoping all her cards will make my friends and family smile.
In the future… We’re hoping that Society COLLECTIVE gains enough momentum and support so we can return to Colombia and set up a local school for the Wayuu children. This is our driving force right now, and something we know we can achieve!
// GIVEAWAY // // GIVEAWAY // // GIVEAWAY //
Elinor Cripps and Society COLLECTIVE are generously giving you the chance to win this exquisite handwoven Mochila valued at $190.00!
*Drawn next Friday the 16th March 2012*
HOW TO ENTER
1 entry = Head over to our Facebook and say ‘Hi’ – how easy is that?!
2 MORE entries = While you are there – be sure to hit the ‘SHARE’ button on the Facebook giveaway post for triple the chance to win….