At the weekend I came across a young designers market and I lingered with intent, taking in the beautiful designs, the clever artifacts, the colours and the patterns. I had conveniently left the husband at home.
One stall that impressed me with its simplicity and beauty is The Woven Trail – I picked up a card and read the information and then contacted Julie to find out more.
Julie Lewsey is Zimbabwean. It is hard for those who were born and raised there to see what has become of their beautiful country. Julie's parents, recognising the political and economic turmoil that the country was experiencing, came over to Australia and this is where she went to university.
She met her husband, at primary school in Zimbabwe but reconnected after many years apart at her brother's wedding in Australia. Together they set off on a year long trip exploring Africa but also looking at how they can continue their bonds with their country and help craftsmen develop products which were contemporary and beautiful and had an appeal in Australia.
As Julie said "The name stemmed from our year long journey and the exploration of artisans. 'Woven' speaks to both hand- crafts and our own exploration through craft and design. Trail is a reminder that all of this is a journey (often down an unknown track!)"
The result is a selection of hand- crafted pieces from Zimbabwean artisans who Julie knows and mentors.
She spoke to me about the essence of their collaboration. Most of them are urban- based individuals and small groups, though there are some rural artisans as well. The slight preference for the former is that their chosen method of communication is through Whatsapp, which is all the rage in Zimbabwe.
That made me laugh but it also made me recognise the strength and role of technological innovations like apps in the business sector. The artisans were chosen as much for their crafts as their desire to start and maintain a long -term and long distance association. What is important is that Julie spends time trying to understand their craft and then using her own knowledge to help create designs for them, which she knows will be popular and sell well.
She pays fair prices for the goods and more importantly has a Design Back system in operation, which means that not only will the artisans be supported in what they do, but she looks at what the communities might need. Together she and her husband have designed a solar phone charging system and Julie designed a water treatment system. These solutions are simple and effective and can have a long lasting and beneficial outcome for all.
That in itself, for me, is reason enough to support Julie's efforts – but actually I don't need to even make that pitch because her collaboration with these artisans has produced a line of simple and elegant hand crafted items which would grace any home and are instantly appealing and tasteful.