apikri: fair trade reflections, part three

My fair trade sojourns in Indonesia also brought me to Apikri, another Forum Fair Trade Indonesia member company. Check out the products that Apikri sells to Ten Thousand Villages for an idea of the range of crafts that they market, from over 200 producers in the Jogjakarta area. Sri, an Apikri employee, accompanied me on visits to three artisans/groups and did a wonderful job translating for me.  Thank you, Sri!

First we visited Picuk, a batik artist based in Yogyakarta. For Apikri, Picuk makes rebana drums, wood batik puzzles, sometimes scarves. The production of the drums that she paints involves three Apikri producers: they are made by one, then decorated at her workshop, and then they are sent on to yet another who makes the basket-woven detail on the drum.

Picuk mentioned two big ways that fair trade has changed her approach to business. First, she thinks more about how best to care for her workers. Fair trade, she explained to me, means more than just higher profits from higher prices. It also means thinking about my workers’ total well-being: their health and other needs. As a fair trade producer, Picuk feels responsible for being socially aware. Second, she is more concerned with ensuring that her business practices are environmentally friendly.

Next up: Sumijem is a fiber producer in Kutogiri, a village in Kulon Progo Regency. Her workshop is called Rami Kencana, Golden Jute. She too cooperates with other Apikri producers: when she gets an order, she sends a request to an Apikri-affiliated friend who harvests raw material.

Sumijem is a tiny woman (I had flashbacks to my days of always feeling like a gringa giant in Guatemala).

I also made my first visit to the village of Giriloyo and the Berkah Lestari batik cooperative. I loved it so much that I went back there and stayed for a week, which is where I made the blue batik piece.

My last post about Lombok included one of the stories I wrote for a Forum Fair Trade Indonesia education/marketing project. Here’s another about Berkah Lestari Cooperative. Nani, the young woman who I talked to, also hosted me when I stayed within Giriloyo, and we became good friends.

Berkah Lestari’s Story

The village of Giriloyo is well known for its batik heritage. For generations, women in this community an hour south of Yogyakarta in central Java have earned fame for their beautiful, intricate batik tulis, hand-drawn batik textiles.

Nani Norchayati Lestari is the young, dynamic leader of Berkah Lestari batik cooperative in Giriloyo, a group of 50 skilled women artists. “Our mothers and grandmothers were batik artists,” Nani explains. 10 of the cooperative members work together at the cooperative center, while others work from their homes.

Nani first heard of Apikri, one of Forum Fair Trade Indonesia’s member organizations, when Apikri sponsored batik training in Imogiri, partnering with Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta. Over time, the relationship with Apikri has helped Berkah Lestari in myriad ways. Apikri provides Berkah Lestari with information about market trends and reviews new product samples. After becoming involved with Apikri, Berkah Lestari has expanded from batik textiles to batik on wood and bamboo. The unfinished wood and bamboo materials come from other Apikri producers. These partnerships with other producers extend beyond business—Apikri organizes meetings in which artisans can share experiences and problems, learning from each other as they exchange materials for their craft. In the future, Berkah Lestari will also meet with Apikri to discuss fair wage calculation and make sure the batik artists are receiving fair pay for their work.

In the past, women in Giriloyo applied the wax designs to fabric, then sold it to be colored elsewhere. Several years ago, they started coloring the designs themselves. They never imagined that coloring their textiles was dangerous, until a meeting with Apikri. Nani tells the story of discovering the hazards of chemical dyes: “We found out a year ago, in an Apikri meeting, that a survey had found the chemical dyes to be harmful. Before, we used the chemical dyes on the table in the kitchen, and would drink from the cup right next to the dyes! When we learned that the chemical dyes could be hazardous to our health, we were all very sad.

“Now, our members feel that our lives are healthier than before. Apikri supported the separation of the kitchen and dye area, and we now always use gloves while working with the chemical dyes. We didn’t know the chemicals were so dangerous!”

Apikri is now helping Berkah Lestari move toward using natural dyes, which are safe and healthy for the artisan, the consumer, and the environment. When asked about improvements to the fair trade system, Nani says, “I hope that Apikri holds more meetings to build connections and cooperation between producer groups. Berkah Lestari would love to establish a partnership with a silk cooperative, so that we could do our batik work on fair trade silk fabric.”

Thing I learned from Apikri:

Networks matter. If this seems horribly cliche (I feel like the word ‘networking’ has lost all real meaning, being such a buzzword), here’s what I mean: Apikri has made actual communication and material transactions possible between its different artisans, who work with very different materials and techniques. On the production side, this means that, instead of a product that is just assembled  under the auspices of fair trade, many of Apikri’s products are made with fair-trade-sourced raw materials and include the labor and skills of several different craftspeople along the “assembly line.” In a (hand-carved coconut)shell (ha, sorry), this means more fair trade jobs in more different sectors.

For example: a fair trade coffin (yes, they exist!) is made with jute that Sumijem harvests and processes, which she sells to the coffin-assembler for a fair price. Same for the wood and bamboo– harvested in a different area where the natural habitat favors the growth of those materials. One craftsperson assembles the coffin structure, and then it will be sent to another artisan who will do the fine detailing.

But the importance of networking extends beyond the production process. Apikri has also provided opportunities for artisans to meet outside of their economic transactions. Nani, Picuk and Sumijem all told me that they benefited immensely simply from sharing their problems, challenges, and successes with other artisans. Sometimes, as in the case of Berkah Lestari Cooperative, creating a safe workspace is as simple as having access to the right information, and Apikri’s artisan meetings provide that opportunity for open sharing and problem-solving.


One response to “apikri: fair trade reflections, part three

  1. I don’t think “networking” has lost its meaning at all! Relationships matter, and just as we have close friends with which we share extremely personal struggles and successes, its just as important, if not more important, to build professional networks in which the same sharing of ideas can take place in the context of our careers, as those struggles and successes can mean the difference between a good job and a great job, nutritious food, kids going to school, opportunities 🙂

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