Summer 2015, Abomey
CLIENT WBDI / AAD
8 weeks to value the local know-how and encourage related researches. With a respect for tradition and a curiosity for innovation, we developed several products that allowed a better financial viability for participants.
Furniture & Crafts
LEARNINGS & CHALLENGES
Encourage research and enable long-term changes.
We were 12 weavers, three 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 have less and fewer clients. Of course: they always weave the same products, and it's excellent quality. This workshop has been happening for three summers and will continue for two more. The results were exhibited in Senegal, Benin, and Belgium and were well received and sold out.
The real long-term goal was to generate consciousness of research benefits. And it worked! The three 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 keep innovating throughout the year.
Raise 3D thinking among weavers
Weavers always weave 2D textile. As a product designer, my challenge was to raise 3D thinking among weavers and help them create objects with 2D textile. By analyzing the context (material or immaterial culture), by raising the consciousness of specific issues (production, ecology, economy, sustainability), and for sure by offering sketchbooks and mock-up sessions.
A mistake is not a waste of money
Research often requires to « try, fail, (...), try, then succeed». However, Beninese weavers essentially weave for a better livelihood. Although materials were offered during the workshop, research meant to them « waste of material/time/money and unsuccessful results.» 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 the reticent weavers finally also started to try, fail and succeed!
Arrange meetings and collaborations
Weavers mostly use to develop products alone. Paradoxically, they also use to copy each other a lot. Once a product becomes successful, others local weavers will precisely copy it. They tend to be quite distrustful of each other and rarely share their experiences.
One of the goals 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 bits of knowledge? 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 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 leaf, 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 millimeters. 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.