The Woven Wonders of BeenyBud
In Jamaica, straw happens to be one of the main raw materials used for many of our locally sourced fine art keepsakes. Found in various craft markets stretched across the island, straw hats, baskets, bags and even floor mats have won the hearts of many local and international ‘handmade junkies’.
Outlook had the chance to chat up a storm with Ashley Rousseau, who is the head cook and bottle washer at BeenyBud Jamaica.
So, as a writer by profession, who has worked in education, public relations and publishing, how did she end up as a purveyor of fine craft?
“Through working on a straw training project with the Sandals Foundation in the hills of St Catherine, it became clear that a lot of talent was there. However, there was a need to upgrade and modernise the skills in terms of design,” Rousseau said.
During her time there, she also noticed that most of the artisans are women who have responsibilities, such as farming and catering to the vulnerable ones of the families, so they were unable to make the journey to the nearest crafts market.
“I saw it fit to close the gap between production and the market,” she said.
We have a tradition of hat making here in Jamaica that goes back many years, and there is only one place in Jamaica where that kind of straw is grown – it is called ‘jippa jappa’.
Also grown in Ecuador and Panama, there is an old folklore which tells the tale of Jamaicans from long ago, who brought back the plant and its best weaving method from Panama. Since then, various trimming and accessories, such as shells, buttons, and printed fabrics, have been added to the grand scheme of things, bringing new life to handmade crafts.
Dyes have also been incorporated.
“Generally, straw products don’t have dyes. Everyone loves a beautiful product, so by adding various colours, people of all ages and cultural backgrounds are drawn to them. That is what we want,” Rousseau said with delight.
With such a versatile raw material that is locally sourced, Rousseau is hoping to see the involvement of more young people, because the art of weaving is dying.
“The current artisans are between 50-60 years old and their children are not interested in learning, because they don’t see it as valuable work,” she said.
Strongly sticking to her beliefs in this cultural tradition, she expresses that it is in the best interest of the country if the Government invests in putting weaving classes back into schools as a means of using natural fibres to generate income.
One challenge that seem to be common for those who dabble in the marketing aspect of handmade products, is the reality that people do not want to pay what the items are worth. Rousseau implores shoppers to not only look at the final product, but to take into consideration that this beautiful item that caught their eye is durable and can be passed down through the generations with great pride.
You are also supporting a tradition that requires time and expertise, and a community.
Of course, being as passionate as she is about the development of Jamaica, Rousseau left a bit of advice for young artisans.
“Take your time to learn the craft and the tradition of the people who make the product. Don’t just patch things together, but tap into the rich cultural heritage of our island.”
BeenyBud can be found at the new Fontana store in Kingston; at Strawberry Hill and other hotel gift shops across the island. If you need more information on how to get your hands on these fine crafts, follow BeenyBud on Instagram @beenybud, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.