‘Thousand Tribes’ campaign boosts global sales for Papua New Guinean artisans


New life is being breathed into Papua New Guinean art and craft with local artisans selling their work worldwide, thanks to a campaign called Thousand Tribes.

Thousand Tribes

Ian Jiji’s tapa cushions were sold out at an international trade fair in New York. Credit: REAL Impact

The Thousand Tribes campaign is a partnership between USAID and REAL Impact. USAID is an international development agency and REAL Impact is a ‘profit-for-purpose’ company that partners, nurtures and grows SMEs into commercial success.

The campaign offers product development assistance for international markets, access to essential business resources, including capital, sustainable PNG certification, inclusion on an international ecommerce site and international tradeshow market access.

It’s a business model that is financially empowering PNG communities by reimagining and aligning their production with global supply chains and fashion trends.

The business model also leverages the new awareness of consumers around the world that their purchases have the potential to positively impact developing communities.

Among the artistans involved with the campaign is Marjorie Toyamina from Pacific Primitive Arts in the Trobriand Islands.

‘The finished products, which connect centuries-old techniques with contemporary style, transport the end buyer on a journey to this remote corner of the world.’

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She works with weavers from her community to produce deep-fringed cushions, made from a combination of pandanus and coconut fibre, that perfectly capture the relaxed feeling of Pacific Island life.

The product appealed to high-end designers and retailers when showed at the SHOPPE OBJECT trade fair in New York and was bought by designer Michelle Farmer, who has four retail outlets across New York

and Florida.

REAL Impact CEO, Virginia Bruce, says: ‘The finished products, which connect centuries-old techniques with contemporary style, transport the end buyer on a journey to this remote corner of the world.’

Working with SMEs

A ‘hippy chair’ by weavers in Ialibu is among the products being marketed overseas. Credit: REAL Impact

Port Moresby-based designer Ian Jiji is another artisan involved with the campaign. Jiji specialises in screen printing and is the community leader of four women’s artisan groups in Oro Province.

REAL Impact has worked with Jiji for two years, initially developing a cushion range using original tapa cloth artworks.

The cushion range was also taken to SHOPPE OBJECT, with all samples sold.

Jiji and REAL Impact are now working on new colour approaches for the cushions, such as a simple black and natural palette, to appeal to the international market, while being respectful of the origins of the work.

Jiji says: ‘Seeing our tapa cloth turned into contemporary homewares empowers our community and instils great pride in the women creators.’

From over 550 applicants, the Thousand Tribes program is working with 29 SMEs in Madang, East Sepik, Southern Highlands, Enga, Milne Bay and NCD.

Papua New Guinean consumers can access the exciting new items at Brian Bell outlets.

The article ‘Global sales for local artisans’ was first published in the June 2021 issue of PNG Now, PNG’s leading lifestyle magazine.

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