Monday, June 1, 2009

Jewelry, Soap, Oils, Community, Training

Anse Kawet Crafters Training in Laborie, St. Lucia

Sometimes being exhausted is a good feeling – usually when you know you’ve worked hard and feel like you did good. So I think it’s okay that the last couple days I’ve been so tired I could hardly string two thoughts together without forgetting one of them!

8 days in Laborie, St. Lucia – a little fishing village just south of the Pitons, 10 great ladies and one great young man, 7 of them over the age of 40, and me, making it 8 people over 40. My job was to provide skills, ideas and guidance to help this group, the Anse Kawet Crafters, to develop a more diverse, competitive, sustainable product range.

As with all these super-short ‘interventions’ I had mixed feelings: This one at least was well funded by a new agency in the island, SEQUA through the very pro-active Laborie Development Foundation. They’d allowed pretty decent fees and funding for materials but that in itself doesn’t change the fact that it’s a short intervention and so, leaves a host of very important aspects unresolved, untouched even.

But before I drag you all through the what’s wrong of it, a whirlwind tour of what was good is in order:

This group has existed for about 10 years now, some members have been crafting pretty much all their lives and you can see that they love crafting. But the reality is that they both want and need to make some money from what they do and that hasn’t proved so easy.

Like many crafters in the islands, finding and servicing clients can be a challenge. The tourism industry is most often the obvious target but often proves to be a challenging customer, much to most people’s consternation. But when you look closer, the problem is fairly obvious – the richness of local culture just doesn’t show through to the arts and crafts and much of the local souvenir offering is clichéd, seemingly generic and often poorly made.

Ooops, I said I’d focus on what was good first.

The good part of this training was the enthusiasm and welcoming spirit of the trainees. Most worked full days and attended the sessions from 5-8:30pm and since I had a lot I wanted to get through, the sessions were intense, no time to relax.
Students make the Glory-Cedar soap
We looked at a host of local herbs, spices and other ingredients that could be used in both soap and body oils for effective, very saleable products. With time against us, we chose to do a simple soap for mature skin with banana and tamarind pulp and a little paprika for colour. Second we made a ‘Glory-Cedar’ soap – chock full of leaves of the Gliricidia sepium plant – a local favourite for relieving nappy and heat rashes. This we made with extra olive and sunflower oils for gentleness and tipped in some Annatto as a skin friendly colour.
Banana & Tamarind Soap for Mature Skin &
Glory-Cedar soap for soothing irritated skin
We tried making some Virgin Coconut Oil and were successful but as we only worked with a very small amount of coconuts, we only got a couple ounces of oil. Nonetheless, that lovely sweetness of virgin coconut oil was achieved. 

And one member of the group taught us all that grating the coconuts at ¼ moon ensures that you obtain the maximum amount of oil for your efforts. Our coconuts were from the pretty grafted coconut trees – those ones that conveniently don’t grow tall and produce lovely sunny yellow coconuts. Apparently they fall a little short in the oil supply though. So once again, I learnt as much as I taught in that session!

We steeped local coconut oil with Cinnamon, nutmeg, bay and local eucalyptus (which I must admit, isn’t real eucalyptus, so I’ve got to check into what exactly it is). The students were joking that we were making what’s locally known as ‘Fixion’ a potion that fixes all your aches and pains. Well, we were really, just didn’t add any alcohol to it and those that rubbed it on their aching joints reported the next day that they enjoyed a pain free night.
testing the 'Fixion'
The rest of the training we delved into jewelry – we carved up calabash, cooked up cold porcelain, hand-moulded turtles (the group’s name means Turtle Bay) and cast them in plaster.

We drilled into shells, seeds, and seedpods and combined them with cold porcelain creations and all sorts of beads; strung them on multiple strings with handmade toggle clasps and fancy slip knots; matching earrings were crafted, with an end result of a truly impressive range of designs to display on the final day.
What struck me was how quickly everyone learnt – one demonstration would result in instant interpretations and each day, students would return with more variations that they’d come up with at home.

Each day I went back to my apartment with little gifts that made me feel extra good too. I now have a rosemary plant, thyme plant and a baby bay tree and have eaten through bags of fruit and tamarind balls.

What was missing was the time to go through production techniques for cost and quality effective working, costing and pricing – although we touched on this, I know it requires actually taking students through their own processes and working it all out. We also needed to work on identifying and selling to and servicing clients. Training in computer skills and internet communications was also an area we IDd for future training. Way too much to happen in this small workshop but we did chat about the concepts as we worked each day and once again, I was impressed by how much was taken in and easily understood.

This is a great group, determined to become a hub of creative production providing sustainable income generation for persons of all ages in Laborie. Their skills range far beyond the areas we trained in, including basketry (from imported wicker – yet another area ripe for development) crochet – I’d love to see crochet jewelry skills introduced and contemporary crochet fashions too. They plan to produce 3 soaps – the two we did and their staple aloe vera and oats, 2 body oils – the ‘fixion’ and a mosquito repellant oil, their baskets, loofah scrubs, local rum punch and their jewelry. Some members also make dolls and crochet all sorts of things.

The challenges they have ahead in achieving their goals are not small and I hope I’ll be able to return and help them work out some more solutions.

In the meantime, if anyone thinks they could use the products of this group – get in touch with them directly or through me. If you’d like to help with donations of materials, equipment or otherwise, drop me a line too, I’ll be happy to put you in touch.
Laborie Church on the way home Sunday Evening
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  1. I absolutely love arts and crafts! I usually buy the soaps and jewellery from the vendors, but I have never gotten any from the Laborie group. This industry has lots of potential, but I think that us locals do not support each other enough.

  2. Great!

    This group are only now restarting selling their soaps, but you can get lovely handmade soap at the Arts & Crafts Co-op upstairs La Place Carenage - along with a lot of other local arts & crafts - lots of jewelry, handpainted clothes, designer bags...well worth a visit:)