Rosie shares her hat making skills with Papua New Guinean women
Recently I have been fortunate to share my hat making skills with the Bilum weavers of Papua New Guinea (PNG) through the Geneva-based International Trade Centre (ITC) – a United Nations/World Trade Organisation agency focused on trade development, funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Bilum is an ancient PNG technique of twisting and looping fibres in beautiful patterns to create colourful utility bags. Weavers sell their Bilum bags and other products in the local marketplace, investing the proceeds of their work into food for their families, health and education.
Importantly, the ITC program is linked to women’s economic empowerment. Currently sales of Bilum products cover the cost of raw materials with small profits. The ITC program is designed to work with the women through organized cooperatives to ensure fair payment for the time-consuming weaving process.
My role is to share hat making skills with the Bilum weavers through training workshops and by developing export ready products. The women translate their Bilum weaving skills into headwear and bags that can be sold locally and abroad through the recently created Port Moresby based BEPA (Bilum Export Promotion Association).
The Bilum project will open export markets for Bilum producers. The strategy will allow weavers to command a higher retail price in international markets and through BEPA return more money as fair payment for their time.
I am excited to be involved in this project as it honours and elevates the Bilum weavers of PNG. It brings their creativity and expertise into an international spotlight.
I was thrilled to see that you’ve been working with women from the Mt Hagen Handicraft Group and others to turn bilums into headwear products. I was a volunteer with this group in Mt Hagen, PNG back in 2008 and spent time with these women, including Barbara Pagasa and others, particularly working with the HIV-positive members of the group. It’s a wonderful group, and if you and the ITC are able to connect them in with high-end buyers, that would be amazing. I wish you all the best. I proudly carry my bilum around in Melbourne and it’s often a conversation starter.
Thanks for sharing your work, and the short film is great too, many familiar faces.
I just found your comment on my blog post. Thank you for getting in touch.
I particularly enjoy the women of Mt hagen and hope to get back one day soon.
Their work will be featured in my new summer range from October.