For Exercise 2 I have chosen the first option which asks to find an object or product that has been marketed as environmentally sound, ethically produced, green or sustainable in some way, and investigate if these characteristics can be ascertained for example by means of an examination of the object, the manufacture’s website or in other ways.
I’m going to try to learn something more about a toquilla straw bag made in Ecuador that I have recently bought. Here are some snapshots taken with my mobile phone, showing the front, the back, the inside and some details of my straw clutch (Fig. 1).
I have bought my bag online and it came wrapped in tissue paper, without an individual package. Besides the fabric label glued inside, which reads ‘SENSISTUDIO made in Ecuador’, it had two paper tags attached (Figs. 2, 3) printed back and front.
Figure. My clutch bought from SensiStudio™
Figures 2, 3. Paper tags removed from the clutch
I have first taken a good look at the paper tags and the information included.
Material used: 100% natural fibre carludovica palmata, so-called ‘toquilla straw’, which is also used to weave original Panama hats
Manufacturing processes: hand-weaving, each bag takes approximately 3 days to weave, manual colour dyeing
Workers: mostly women organized in small weaving labs living in indigenous communities around the Andes regions from Ecuador
Social responsibility: it is expressly said that the company takes ‘a strong social responsibility’ and the artisans are given ‘the best remuneration for their work’
From a close look at the clutch it is clear that it is manually hand-woven as stated since the weaving shows slight irregularities. Both the black big dots and the grey-white circles seem to have been hand-painted very probably in acrylics. The white lining in the inside – whose composition is not indicated on the tags – looks like a machine-woven cotton or cotton-mixture textile and has been machine stitched. The green colour seems to have been obtained from a synthetic dye, not a natural dye.
From my visit to the SensiStudio™ website:
I did not get any additional information as to the manufacturing processes and the working conditions.
As far as sustainability is concerned, it is not said where and how the ‘toquilla straw’ is grown and the farming methods used. The adoption of social sustainability criteria is clearly declared: working methods have not been industrialized and artisans still work together in small weaving organizations in their own local communities as they used to do traditionally. It is also stated that artisans are given ‘the best remuneration for their work’ even if this is not further specified.
Given the information available, I have no reason to believe that the labeling is not accurate but sustainability issues could arise during the stage of growing/farming the straw and especially during the process of dyeing – water consumption, pollution of rivers, toxicity of synthetic dyes.
Out of curiosity I did some additional research online on the materials and the processes used in Ecuador for the manufacturing of the traditional Panama hats from the ‘toquilla straw’ and soon discovered that they are misnamed since they are not made in Panama but in Ecuador.
In 2012 the art of weaving the traditional Ecuadorian toquilla hat has been added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists (Wikipedia). On that occasion the UNESCO produced a video illustrating how the toquilla straw hats are woven from fibres from a palm tree of the Ecuadorian coast. It explains how the farmers cultivate the toquillales and harvest the stems before separating the fibre from the outer skin. Then the fibre is boiled to remove chlorophyll and dried for bleaching. Using this fibre, weavers produce the pattern, the crown and the brim of the hat and complete the process by washing, bleaching, oven treatment, ironing and pressing. Weaving a hat can take from one day to eight months, depending on its quality and finesse.
These processes seem to be socially sustainable but certainly can generate environmental issues at the bleaching and the dyeing stages.
The Tropical Development and Research Institute published a handbook on the dyeing of leaves and straws for the local craft instructors. The book does not specifically deal with the dyeing of Ecuadorian toquilla straw, but is certainly an interesting read about the process. Here is the cover of the book (available online as PDF) and of the link:
At: http://www.nzdl.org/gsdlmod?e=d-00000-00—off-0cdl–00-0—-0-10-0—0—0direct-10—4——-0-1l–11-en-50—20-about—00-0-1-00-0–4—-0-0-11-10-0utfZz-8-00&a=d&c=cdl&cl=CL1.222&d=HASHd1744f5d5bfb50180f20ae (Accessed 10/07/2017)