Designed by masters, woven with dignity
As I was preparing for my wedding, a girlfriend of mine gave me an idea to make the traditional "hen party" a bit more meaningful and adventurous.
Before long, my bridesmaids and I found ourselves travelling 12 hours by plane and car, from Singapore to inland Toraja, a mountainous region of South Sulawesi, in neighbouring Indonesia.
Experiencing the culture of Toraja was absolutely fascinating.
The indigenous people have such deep reverence for those who have passed on, which begins with months of preparation and saving up for a grand funeral rite of passage where villagers would come together in fellowship.
The idea of value is also very different. Buffalos in Toraja are esteemed as prize possessions at each funeral or wedding procession – similar to how some might love their cars.
The richness of the culture is not only seen through celebratory rites and food, but also with beautiful clothes that complete each festivity.
Many new dimensions of their culture moved me, but one in particular opened up a new paradigm: I learnt about the magnificence of how clothing is produced locally.
We had the privilege to spend time with local women weavers to understand how thread is bought from the local cooperatives they belong to.
We also learnt from our host, Dinny, how she founded Torajamelo as a social enterprise to transform the lives of poor women weavers by giving them a source of livelihood and economic independence, so that they wouldn't have to leave their families behind and go to the city to become maids.
What ran deeper as an undercurrent was responding to the need of reviving the dying craft of weaving in Toraja, amid the erosion of old traditions coupled with the indigenous people being at the cusp of rapid modernisation.
Wonder and respect
I was overcome by a sense of wonder and respect as I saw women weavers display the intricacies of how each motif was woven in each piece of fabric.
And in each motif, stood a mathematical formula for how many threads of each colour needed to be woven together to craft the desired design systematically, accurately and beautifully.
The experience connected me to the roots of the land, to why things are made and how. It connected me to the entire supply chain to understand and see the face of the woman who makes the clothes I wear.
I saw for myself that with each Torajamelo item that I chose to buy, my money was flowing through the value chain and making a difference to the livelihood of each weaver.
Many a time, we forget the influential powers that we, as consumers, have.
When we demand certain products, we permit, perpetuate and even encourage either ethical or unethical practices surrounding the manufacturing of products.
We often forget that each dollar we spend indirectly casts a vote to indicate our "approval" for manufacturing practices that may be inhumane, cruel to animals or subject workers to poor working conditions.
Not all products are created in such conditions, but the unfortunate truth is that unethical production practices are often times unseen because we are so, so disconnected from how things are made.
By being aware of the manufacturing process behind the products we purchase, we become in touch with where and how our money flows, and we can then exercise our rights as consumers to choose alternatives that we know will enable us to build a better world for all.
Our trip to Toraja enabled us to understand that the sustainability and regeneration of the culture of weaving depends on their greater adoption by conscious consumers who choose to buy based on a brand's values that they resonate with.
Now I know that each time I buy something from Torajamelo, whether at their stores in Indonesia or online, in however small a way, my money goes directly to supporting the livelihoods of the women weavers in Toraja.
Text first published in Honesty Circles by Audrey Tan. If you're keen to join Audrey to visit Toraja and discover more about its culture and Torajamelo's weavers, contact her here.