We have been very fortunate over the past 3 years to work with some amazing companies who share our ethos about the power of ‘business for good’. So, we thought we would introduce some of them to you, so that you can see the people behind the brand name and join us in our admiration.
The Basket Room
The Basket Room is an ethical lifestyle brand founded by Holly Dutton and Camilla Sutton. They specialise in handwoven baskets and accessories made in Africa, working directly with weaving cooperatives in rural Kenya, Ghana & Tanzania to create stunning collections.
What made you start The Basket Room?
Holly: The Basket Room was born organically…Camilla and I and met up in London a few years after graduating to attend a talk on sustainability and corporate social responsibility. It was there that we realised our mutual interests for ethical sourcing, handicrafts and Africa! I was at the time working for an African charity and Camilla had just quit her fast-paced Fashion job in London to follow her dreams of sourcing handmade accessories from East Africa. Our paths crossed at the right time in our lives, some would say it was meant to be, or fate!
How did your individual skills both help as co-founders? What strengths do you each bring?
Holly: We both worked freelance prior to forming our partnership, and have acknowledged how amazing it is to have someone to bounce ideas off, reach difficult decisions and share the work load. Setting up your own business is hard, so having two of you with complimentary skill sets has made the journey a little bit easier! Camilla’s strengths lie in production, design and sourcing, whilst mine are retail, sales and marketing. We share tasks across all areas of the business as it keeps ideas fresh and innovative.
What’s your favourite second hand item?
Holly: Mine is this Country Casuals short sleeved wool top, made here in Great Britain! Is it a jumper, a tank top?! Am not entirely sure, but I love it for the clashy colours and stripes. Easy to wear with jeans on a warm but not so hot Spring day! I picked it up at my local charity shop just a couple of weeks ago. I love to scour for individual pieces that I know I will get a lot of wear out of, as I rarely buy brand new clothes anymore and if I do then I do my best to buy ethically and responsibly.
Camilla: Mine is this awesome tie dye dress I found at the second hand market, or ‘Gikomba’ in Nairobi. I only buy clothes from the Gikomba markets these days, because you can find incredible garments, retro and designer pieces at really cheap prices. Most of the clothes are shipped over from the West in huge containers and many people make their living here by sorting and specialising in specific garment types, which they sell on to locals. It is sad to see such vast amounts of un-loved, hardly worn clothes in one place, and still it is tough for the East African fashion scene to compete with this Gikomba industry… hopefully one day, people will buy less, and less disposably.
Could you tell us a bit about the communities you work with, how did that come about?
Holly: We work directly with weaving cooperatives in Kenya and Ghana and are expanding into other African countries. Camilla visited Kenya a few years ago and was introduced to a weaving community that needed access to market. The groups are often off the tourist trail and do not have the means to market themselves to a wider audience.
Most of the weavers that we work with in Africa are women, because in the traditional African setting, women were in charge of furnishing their homesteads with items like sleeping mats, baskets for harvesting as well as for storing food and such. This weaving skill was then passed down from Grandmother to Granddaughter.
In Ghana however, the weavers that we work with are also male. Most of these weavers rely on small scale subsistence farming, but due to uncertain rainfall, they have come to look towards weaving as a way of an alternative income. Some of the cooperatives make monthly savings and have been able to purchase land with the view of developing to benefit the group.
Weaving is mostly done around chores or while walking to the market or Church, so it is an effortless art that not only keeps these weavers occupied, but also enables them to make some money from a skill that’s been passed down from generation to generation.
And how does your model work to help support the weavers?
Holly: Once we identify a weaving cooperative that we would like to work with, we meet with them in person to discuss their skills and products. Quite often the whole group will attend, as it is a very important meeting for them. The chairlady, secretary and treasurer will always be present and discussions are made between the members about designs, quantities and prices. As we do not manage the weavers or employ them directly, they make collaborative decisions as a group, this benefits them greatly as they have control over the project and can not be exploited.
We also provide the groups with materials like scissors, tape measures and rulers and train them to make consistent basket sizes. If required, we will also provide dyes and mixing drums to allow larger orders to be placed.
Once an order is confirmed based on the production ability of the group, a deposit is paid upfront. This allows the weavers to buy materials needed to start production. Communications and regular visits are kept throughout the production period to ensure no errors are being made. Once the deadline is reached, the balance is paid on the order. Each weaver is then paid per piece by the chairlady, so it is in her best interests to weave well and regularly.
The higher demand we have for our baskets, the larger orders we can place with the groups and they can invite new members to join the cooperative, meaning more women are gaining a consistent income.
To view the full range and purchase from The Basket Room visit www.thebasketroom.com