Product Design and Development Workshop

Product Design and Development Workshop

Text and pictures by Sotiria and Elisa
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On 5-6 July, the Product Design and Development Workshop took place in the village hall of Mae See Pee Tai. The aim of the training was for the women to learn how to reproduce new Karen designs, which were made in the refugee camp, whereas  new color-matching ideas proposed by Joanne Cotton and WEAVE. Around fifteen weavers participated, both from MSP,T and MSP,N, and Joanne informed the women on quality control and its importance.

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The preparation of the venue was carried out by WEAVE staff: P’Nune, P’Saeng, P’Say, and the only man present, P’Yam. The hall perfectly served the purpose, and it is now ready for future trainings.

After a group picture and short introduction by the organizers and the district governor Mr. So Chi Win, the women started working on their thread, having already had the chance to study the new patterns.

Joanne, from the EEPPOC organization, supervised the women’s work and gave advice in terms of quality. The products need to meet specific quality standards and have an appealing combination of colors in order to be marketable internationally. Joanne, with the help of P’Say and P’Saeng who served as translators and facilitators, gave some general instructions to the women on how to proceed, measure, be consistent in their work, thus maintaining their reputation as original and skilled Karen weavers. Joanne and WEAVE staff were walking around trying to find out more about each weaver’s abilities and difficulties, and about the techniques they use to measure, trying to give advice on how to improve them.

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It was inspiring to see women helping and supervising one another, sharing their knowledge about weaving and enhancing their collective efficacy. Each weaver has a different level of expertise, and cooperating makes their job faster. This is why some women kept walking around, looking at the others working on their textiles. There is no competition, only a spirit of cooperation. Joanne made things clear: they are the weavers, not her, and they know how to do their job better than anybody else does. Her job is simply making the products they can already make internationally marketable; she helped the women in understanding which features a product should have in order to be sold in Western markets.

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Children were running around, sometimes trying to catch their mothers’ attention, but mainly playing and trying to communicate with us “farang”. Women, on the other hand, were concentrated on their work, which slowly took shape in the form of shawls before our eyes.

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We also had the chance to take a look at the way the thread is prepared for the weaving process as well as the time, effort, patience and skill invested in creating traditional patterns. Let us remind ourselves that oftentimes fair trade products are rejected in favor of their cheap, machine-produced counterparts overlooking the fact that that means we implicitly encourage cheap labour and all the consequences it entails.
Not only it was great to take a look at how the products we buy are made, but also sharing thoughts with Joanne, a woman much experienced in development and interesting to converse with.
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Text and pictures by Sotiria and Elisa

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