"Hand Crafted Bilum — A Vision For Mindful Fashion"
We are so excited to welcome this beautiful Not-For-Profit, women run brand to Alterior Motif. Started in 2015 by Caroline Sherman, Among Equals is a brand that merges art and community with fashion and the ancient practice of Bilum weaving. After her visit to the village of Goroka, to meet communities of weavers in Papua New Guinea, Caroline was motivated to empower the women and their families, and inspired by the artisan weavers’ clever colour play, Sherman went on to build the Among Equals brand around the idea of optimism and mindfulness.
To date, Among Equals works with more than 2,000 women in Papua New Guinea with Sherman collaborating closely with region leaders and aggregators. Her dedication has helped the brand generate life-transforming revenue for PNG women and their families.
So, what is Bilum? Bilum weaving is a traditional art form that has been passed down through generations of women in Papua New Guinea. Each Bilum is handwoven and takes around eight weeks to make. The weavers’ beautiful natural fibres are created from surrounding vegetation, such as the Pandanus plant and Tulip tree. These fibres are beaten, rolled on the knee and then twisted into fine yarns.
Each weaver has a clever colour-play, which is adored by the brand (and us). Having a very considered approach by using natural sources to brighten designs, such as plants, ochres and berries is a testament to the artisanal skills and their philosophy to work holistically using natural or recycled materials.
Each Bilum bag is unique, a one-of-a-kind work of art particular to the weaver and her home region in The Highlands, Telefomin or Sepik River regions. Their woven patterns are culturally significant talismans that speak of independence and strength.
"Among Equals brings together two future-forward themes: craft and community."
"Florence Jaukae Kamel joined the brand in the role of aggregator and ambassador in 2015. Florence is based in Goroka and works with the weaving communities, arranging training workshops and buying days. These market events are held at the Blue Haus, a peaceful studio space built by our brand at the request of the weavers in 2017, and it is here the women regularly come together to show their Bilum, socialise, weave or receive training."
"We also work with Lina Singu (pictured), an Among Equals brand aggregator and ambassador who oversees the Sepik River region. In a small motorboat, Lina is able to reach some of the most remote regions in the country. Along the way, she is met by groups of women, who gather at the river banks to sell their Bilum."
Though their non-for-profit endeavours, Among Equals has worked to identify and engage key local and international buyers in the global fashion market to grow the industry. To date, they have sold over 4,000 Bilum bags throughout 12 countries.
The Highland are a chain of Mountains Ranges that run from the East to West of Paupa New Guinea. Bilum from this region are typically bright and bold. The design is created by the weaver and reflects her life experience, mood and where she lives.
"Our mission is to empower the weavers of PNG by generating life changing income for marginalised women living in underprivileged settlements in Port Moresby. Each Bilum takes around six weeks to weave by hand and communicates life stories through pattern and colour. The Mountain Design, for example, tells the story of a young girl’s arduous journey to sell her Bilum. From the proceeds, the weavers are able to support their families and pay for crucial services, such as a school bus which connects students from remote regions to daily learning."
EAST SEPIK PROVINCE
Bilum made from the East Sepik Province is made from natural fibres such as Pandanus and Sisal which is hand rolled into one long fibre and woven together. The colour variation is quite earthy and achieved using natural dyes including clay, leaves and bark.
"Telefomin is a small rural outpost in the mountain range of West Sepik Province (Sanduan), located close to the border of PNG and West Papua. Telefomin Bilums are distinct in their simplicity; fibre is sourced from surrounding vegetation, laboriously beaten and processed into string and then woven – women and girls are the main producers of bilum. Telefomin weavers expertly utilise the maturity of the fibrous material to achieve the subtle colour variations inherently found in Telefomin Bilum."
Amongst many endeavours, Among Equals funded and built "The Blue Haus" in 2017. A space for the Goroka weavers, designed to their needs. This is a space that protects women from the elements and has a water tank and sanitation unit. It's a peaceful studio where weavers come to rest, socialise, weave and receive training. As well as giving back through "The Bilum Circle" which is a goal focused on generating profit for purpose , empowering communities through trade whilst paying the weaver a premium for her Bilum. As well as doing many inspiring things such as teaming up with "Books 4 PNG Kids", calling on communities to donate books which were then distributed to schools in remote regions of PNG. As well as hosting a community drive for unwanted knitwear and jumpers, sending 6 large boxes to the weavers which were then turned into yarns in their Bilum. This being only a few of the many ways Among Equals give back to these amazing communites.
"It is our focus to continue to deepen our engagement with communities in both Australia and PNG through financial support for community-lead projects, charitable initiatives and employment opportunities."
All information sourced via Among Equals.
We love the magic of this brand and the stories that every Bilum tells. Knowing that you are supporting such a great cause and carrying your day-to-day items in such a work of art is so special and important to us.
Discover our hand chosen designs here.