Artisan In Focus: Tsandza Weaving
In 1979, Rose Roques built a workshop on her Swaziland farm as a gathering place for local artisan women. More than three decades later, Tsandza Weaving has become an economic and social engine for a rural community, employing 37 female artisans and spearheading efforts to increase access to early childhood education and clean drinking water.
The artisan weavers at Tsandza make everything from scarves to table runners using raw materials like mohair, merino and bamboo. Annually, Tsandza sells thousands of handcrafted items around the world, which support the living wages and other benefits of all Tsandza employees.
Today, Tsandza Weaving is owned and operated by Kerry James. We caught up with her earlier this year to learn more about the organization.
Plume Collection: Tsandza is committed to providing work for Swaziland women. What social/ cultural conditions led to this commitment?
Kerry James: [In Swaziland], it’s often the women that will be working a full time job, and plowing the fields, making sure livestock is tended to and so on. [Women] juggle farming the land, and managing the health and well being of themselves and their families when the distance to access healthcare is long … Having a voice in the family is also a challenge. Whilst the women may be the main caregivers and provide a great extent of the family’s income, in this culture, it is the men who have the greater voice within the family and community, making it very difficult for women’s needs to be heard and considered.
PC: The women in your area are expected to farm, raise children and earn an income? It seems like it would be difficult to find women with enough time to show up, much less learn the craft of weaving.
KJ: Plus the business logistics of navigating constant increases in prices for raw materials, [and] logistics of being in a remote area lacking telecommunications, access for transport and couriers to receive raw materials and dispatch finished product…Yes, running a business is hard!
PC: And yet, Tsandza succeeds.
KJ: [We] produce around 14 different types of products like scarves, snoods, shrugs, shawls, bags, hats, gloves, blankets, throws, cushion covers and table runners. They are made in a variety of different fibers—mohair, brushed mohair, merino bamboo and cotton—and in over 40 different colors and patterns. Today, we sell circa 3500-plus items per annum. [We sell] retail through our two Swaziland shops … and wholesale to customers in South Africa, United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States.
PC: Are there plans to grow?
KJ: Yes, Tsandza definitely has ambitions to grow it’s customer base, increase its revenues and continue to be able to provide training and income generation opportunities to more local people.
PC: What’s needed to achieve these goals?
KJ: Our key tasks currently are to relocate a little way closer to the greater population so that we are more accessible to transport, facilities and trainee artisans; build a larger workshop…to accommodate new artisans and improve production workflow and efficiencies; and expand our sales and marketing activities and resources. To achieve this, we need additional funds [about $43,000], additional resources in terms of people, skills, and our biggest challenge of all: time!
PC: There’s not an obvious bridge between social and economic equality in Swaziland and being fashionable in Brooklyn. And, yet, Tsandza has built that bridge.
KJ: I have lots of thoughts on this. Ultimately, regardless of it’s origin or the impact on it’s originators, our products must be able to “hold their own” within the global market place. In other words they need to be of quality, atheistically pleasing ie: they need to meet market trends and our customer base’s likes and wants.This means that production has to be of quality, it has to be produced in time to meet customer deadlines, and it has to be efficient in order for our products to remain viable.
PC: It can't just be ethically produced. The product needs to meet consumer expectations in other ways.
KJ: It is not always easy to convey to our end users the extensive time and skills that went into producing a single item by hand. They like the idea of buying something that has been perhaps ethically produced, but there is often a discrepancy between acknowledging the value of the product versus being willing to pay the price for such an item.
In the same vain, the idea of purchasing something that is made by hand--as is the case of Tsandza--is very often something our customers are attracted to, being able to accept that we are unable to produce quantities with speed, that are all identical, is often something our customers struggle with.
What all of this means is that, as a business, Tsandza needs to continually ensure that we, and our customers are the right fit.
This fall, we're thrilled to offer our Woven Bamboo Caftans from Tsandza. And to learn more about artisans or to find out about upcoming sales events, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
*An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Kerry James was the office manager at Tsandza. She is the owner.
*As of November 2016 Tsandza Weaving met its goal of relocating to a new self built weaving workshop.