In 2003, traditional weaving in Soatanana (meaning “Good Town”) was practically non-existent. The weavers had lost their local market in the 1970’s after synthetic cloth from India and China became available as a cheaper substitute for their silk. The grandmothers knew how to weave but had stopped weaving because they had no market. That year, Kyley Schmidt was assigned to their area as a Peace Corps volunteer. Through pure serendipity, Kyley had a degree in Textile Design and loved to make things. Together they formed the Solidarity Cooperative which opened up the weavers' products to local tourist markets and an international export market. The silk had been revived, and the grandmothers began teaching their daughters and granddaughters their traditional art of silk weaving, and these impoverished women began making money.
There are currently about 100 women weavers in the cooperative. Making an "all female" cooperative was a conscious choice in order to give the women full decision-making power over their cooperative and their work, and so it was written into the group's legal by-laws. This employment provides money for family needs, and gives the women the power to choose how their money gets spent. It is flexible work that they can do in their home on their own time, so as to not interfere with their farming and family duties.
Madame Zety Be was the founding mother of the cooperative in 2002, she also worked as a mid-wife and farmer. Madame Eugenie was the original elected cooperative president, and she diligently served for many years before retiring. The current cooperative president, Madame Isabelle (aka. Belle), has been leading the cooperative for the past 10 years. She runs it with the help of many talented weavers, including her daughter Madame Marina.
Below are photos of the 14 smaller women's groups which make up the umbrella cooperative. All the women work together as cooperative members, but they organize in smaller groups (usually by family or close friends) so as to divide work tasks efficiently among group members.
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