In this season of giving, shop for a good cause at Paisley Things, a social enterprise where you can find an eclectic mix of handmade products, including retro-themed enamel pots, etched jugs and Christmas ornaments. Not only will you walk away with one-of-a-kind gifts, you’ll also help talented artisans build a profitable business.
Despite being home to a great pool of talents, the craftwork industry in Indonesia has yet to take off. Most handmade goods continue to be sold at relatively low prices. Even though time-consuming quality handmade products are adequately acceptable to be priced higher than the machine-made ones, however, finding the right market (buyers who will be able to justify paying premium prices) is very difficult for the artisans in rural communities.
Falling short of employment opportunities, many artisans in remote villages have had to abandon their homes in search of work in urban areas. As a result, families are usually torn apart, while traditional craft skills are being lost. Given their lack of education though, it’s almost impossible for most of them to secure good jobs – and so it goes around in circles.
It’s a problem that catches the attention of Caroline Tobing, a French woman who having married an Indonesian, had found a new home here. Trained in interior design, Tobing has always had a penchant for traditional craftsmanship.
She wants to maintain the continuity of traditional Indonesian craftsmanship and at the same time also creates a sustainable source of income for the artisans in villages. By paying fair prices, through her foundation, she helps them make a sustainable living from their skills, stay in their villages and keep families together; thus, she says, Indonesian traditional crafts will survive, as the artisans are not tempted to do other jobs other than crafts.
The story of her foundation, Darius Tobing Foundation, began with an epiphany a few years ago. A traditional bamboo broom adorned with intricate rattan “embroidery” piqued her curiosity. Upon purchasing the broom, she then sought to meet the artisan who made it at his village, as she was curious how he made the beautiful rattan “embroidery”.
“Actually, it was literally embroidery, made with bamboo needles. He made the embroidery by hand, using age-old technique. Even though his brooms are beautiful, but he sells only a few, because nowadays people use modern, mass-produced plastic brooms or vacuum cleaners,” said Tobing.
The revelation brought a lasting impact on Tobing, who then began helping the man by selling his brooms to her friends. After a while, she picked up more things from other artisans. The merchandises sold quickly and Tobing gradually found herself developing a wider network of artisanal partners. “The foundation was established after a good number of artisans came and wanted support from us. My husband said that I had to regroup them under one umbrella,” says Tobing.
Founded in 2011, the Darius Tobing Foundation was named after her late father-in-law and aims to maintain the continuity of traditional Indonesian craftsmanship and at the same time creating a sustainable source of income for artisans in the remote villages – eventually strengthening their families.
“The foundation actually has several programs, one of them is called Paisley Things that deal with the artisans and practices fair trade principles,” says Tobing. In addition, the foundation also has several other programs, some of which have to do with orphanages and libraries, as well as giving out scholarships for higher education.
Through the foundation, Tobing helps provide underprivileged artisans with market access and guides them with design techniques. By now, as many as 25 artisans in Java have signed up for partnership.
“We work directly with the artisans, cutting out middlemen. Each of them is required to open a bank account so we can transfer the money directly to them. Husbands and wives have separate accounts so each can manage his or her own income,” said Tobing.
All of their products are marketed at Paisley Things shop in Jakarta, a beautiful place packed with tasteful artwork arrangements and where every item is one-of-a-kind. Here, each item is impeccably made – Tobing does not want to offer goods that people would buy out of pity.
At Paisley Things, each item has a story to tell – as connecting the goods to their buyers and stories behind them is important to Tobing, she provides little cards that tell stories of the artisans, and how the foundation makes an impact in their lives.
People with low educational background are more likely to have low self-confidence. Not only does the foundation empower the artisans by giving them good income, but it also gradually builds they self-esteem and self-worth, making them believe in the aesthetic value of their works; they are pleasantly surprised that there are actually buyers who appreciate the craftsmanship of their work, value the uniqueness of each item and happily pay premium prices for their handmade products.
Shopping at Paisley Things is a fun experience: both eco-friendly and highly artistic. There’s those stylish bags made from colourful Korean newspapers or these lovely etched olive oil cruets made from recycled materials. Its shopping bag, by the way, is also made from newspapers. Recycled materials aside, you can also find brand new goods, such as cute ceramic birds and plates, and new yet vintage-looking products, such as brand new pots, cups, as well as teapots.
Suffice to say there is something for everyone at this shop: brooms, cards, candle jars, cookie jars, wooden ducks, bags and tin buckets, among others. It was here too that I found an all-natural mosquito repellent oil made from pure organic citronella. For those with a penchant for al fresco dining sans mosquito, that might be a good idea. Now that Christmas is coming, you’ll also be able to find all things Christmas – from wreaths to ornaments.
As for prices, a package of cute fridge magnets costs IDR 60,000, an etched olive oil bottle is IDR 400,000, a large engraved jug glass costs IDR 750,000, a lamp made of vintage thermos flask is IDR 1,200,000 and a vintage rocking chair has a price tag of IDR 1,500,000. If giving kitchenware for Christmas is on your mind, check out the new yet vintage-looking enamel teapots that cost IDR 400,000 each, while the matching pots costs IDR 425,000 each.
Last but not least, Caroline Tobing welcomes anyone to drop by Paisley Things – she says, even if you buy nothing, if asked, she will happily share with you some interesting stories about the lovely items and the artisans (she has told me some fascinating stories, and each story is worth listening to).
In this season to be jolly, why not warm hearts with a gift of goodness? Even though your purchase might seem like a small retail sale, actually you will make a difference in the lives of artisans by helping them to earn a decent living. Merry Christmas and happy shopping!
Jl. Bumi No. 31A, Kebayoran Baru
(next to SMP 59)
T: +62-21 275 10 156
Monday – Friday: 9 am – 5 pm
Saturday: 11 am – 5 pm
Sunday & public holidays: closed.
NOTE: Darius Tobing Foundation accepts donations in the form of used children’s clothing, shoes, books and household items.
For more information, call 275 10 156 or e-mail [email protected]