SUMMER 2015 / COOPERATIVE MISSION
Encourage research and enable long term changes
We were 12 weavers, 3 textile designers and an industrial designer (me).
Thought as a cultural exchange experience, the goal of the workshop was to infuse new vitality and to inspire weavers and designers in finding new research paths.
Weavers were paid by the government to assist in the workshop. During the year, they don't have time and don't use to research.
They've been reproducing traditions for decades. But they have less and less clients. Of course : they always weave the same products and it's great quality.
This workshop has been on for 3 summers and will continue for 2 more. The results of the workshops have been exhibited in Senegal, Benin and Belgium and have been wellreceived and sold out. But the real long term goal is to generate consciousness of research benefits. And it works! The 3 first workshops have already impacted some weavers' economy and way of working. Some of them understood the benefits of research and they now try to spare time and money for it. So that they can innovate throughout the all year.
Raise 3D thinking among 2D weavers
Weavers always weave 2D textile. As a product designer, my personal challenge was to raise 3D thinking among weavers and help them create objects with 2D textile.
I tried to influence their product conception by analysing the context (material or immaterial culture and habits), by raising consciousness of certain issues (production, ecology, economy, sustainability...), and for sure by giving them sketchbooks and mock up testing materials.
A mistake is not a waste of money
In European designer's opinion, research means « try, fail, (...), try, succeed »
But Beninese weavers essentially weave for economic viability purpose. Even if they didn't have to afford for any materials during the workshop, research meant to them « waste of material/time/money and unsuccessful results that are difficult to accept and to analyse ». They were expecting to develop a new brilliant idea every day and were disappointed if not. But seeing the benefits of long research and failures, most of reticent weavers finally also started to try, fail and succeed!
Arrange meetings and collaborations
Most of the time, weavers use to work and develop products alone. But paradoxically, they also copy each other a lot. Once a product becomes successful, others local weavers will precisely copy it. They are then really distrustful of each other and rarely share their experiences.
One of the goal of the workshop was to arrange meetings to discuss and share research results. There are many ways to be influenced by other's work and interpret ideas individually.
Create local craft partnerships
There is seldom interaction between different local crafts. Carpenters work with wood, welders with metal and weavers with textile. But how would it be to cross all these knowledges? That's what we tried to initiate by inviting these other local crafts to collaborate with weavers during the workshop.
Use local materials more
Does it really make sense to sell African textiles made of Chinese polyester yarn? While Africa has the space and the possibility to grow cotton and natural pigments.
Estelle, one of the textile designer, has been researching for 2 years about natural dyeing. She've been collaborating with the unique textile dyer of the region (he only uses chemical) and converted some weavers to natural tints research. By picking and searching for special leafs, roots and barks, by following old recipes, we found out promising colours.
Note for industrial designers:
Learn Beninese resourcefulness
Craft is not industry, textile is not metal and Benin is not Belgium. Hell yes, now I know. Resourcefulness is a religion in Benin and as a fresh graduate industrial designer, I quickly understood I should forget about precision, sectional drawings and millimetres. Don't forget you will not always have electricity, water, quality electronic parts, clean metal pipes and the appropriate tools. That's the way you design in Benin, and that's what creates real Beninese products.