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Creative Women was founded by Ellen Dorsch, whose background and experience is in the area of public health, specializing in women's reproductive health. She started traveling to Africa 21 years ago and worked as a consultant in developing countries. When she retired she still wanted to do something that would work with women and enable her to continue to travel to Africa.
While visitng Ethiopia Ellen saw sex workers training to be hairdressers, only to find there were no jobs available. She visited rehab centers where women were sewing and embroidering beautiful table cloths, but the only market for their products was a small bazaar for the ex-pats living in Addis Ababa. Ellen realized an opportunity existed to improve women's lives and to maintain a centuries-old art form by introducing to the US market the beauty of Ethiopian textiles. Creative Women was started.
Women have been weaving baskets out of sisal, straw and other grasses for generations in Swaziland. The traditional and functional baskets remain simply made, with little decoration, but serve many utilitarian purposes around the home. New businesses and non-profit groups have moved this traditional craft into the 21st century, adding colors obtained with eco-friendly dyes, very complicated designs and marketing Swazi baskets to a global market.
Art historians suggest that the missionaries who came to Swaziland in the 1800s first encouraged women to use their basket-weaving skills to weave textiles. Subsequently, they were encouraged to use their hand-woven textiles to change their style of dress and cover their breasts in the Western style. Another theory suggests that international development organizations capitalized on the weaving tradition and set up weaving training programs for women so they could generate income for their families and communities. Regardless of how it happened and whether its baskets or textiles, women are creating products that incorporate Swazi culture and beauty into each piece.
Creative Women works with Coral Stephens, in Swaziland, where three generations of women have been weaving mohair, and now raffia and other raw materials, into elegant and vibrant home and personal accessories. This committed Swazi business employs 60 talented women and provides them with training, skills, and financial independence ... difficult to find in rural areas.
To learm more about Ellen Dorsch view the video at the right of her talk at the 2009 Disruptive Women Holiday Party: Health & Economic Security in the Developing World.
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