AMONG EQUALS is a not-for-profit brand that merges art and fashion with the beauty of traditional Bilum weaving. We are dedicated to providing artisan weavers from Papua New Guinea with a platform to sell their Bilum globally. Our mission is to celebrate and amplify their craft by significantly expanding the market, bringing their incredible Bilum to the global fashion market.
Each Bilum provides weavers with a regular income. With our profits reinvested in PNG communities, our mission is to empower more and more Bilum weavers, with an enduring economic and cultural impact.
What makes an Among Equals Bilum so special?
When you buy a Bilum from Among Equals you are buying a unique one-of-a-kind piece that has been carefully curated as part of a seasonal fashion collection. The craftsmanship is intricate and considered, the colours are striking and joyful. We celebrate these wonderful creations via evocative campaign imagery and fashion marketing, which amplifies the women’s craft, whilst introducing Bilum to new buyers and audiences through the Among Equals brand.
Bilum weaving is an ancient art form, a time-honoured craft, made modern by weavers today to capture the spirit, art and culture of life in PNG. Our mission is to support their creative practice as it evolves. We are guided by our weavers, continually inspired by their dynamism and innovation.
“If you are buying Bilum through Among Equals, you are buying a bag that has a very big downstream effect. One Bilum benefits 10 to 15 people. Families are supported, children go to school, and it is life-changing.”
- Florence Jaukae Kamel, a Goroka elder and brand Ambassador, liaising directly with weaving communities.
Since founding AMONG EQUALS as a not-for-profit fashion brand, we have been focused on empowering some of the most economically-disadvantaged women in Papua New Guinea through trade, by honouring their craft and paying the weavers a premium for their Bilum.
In 2015, we started with 20 weavers, today we count more than 2,000 women in our community – weavers who live in some of the most remote and hard-to-reach regions in PNG. These women are very much the heart and soul of the brand and the relationships we have with them is transparent – they decide which bags to make, and we have become a key buyer of them, supporting them as small business owners and creatives. With each Bilum sold, there is a huge downstream effect. The funds benefit the community directly and we see each Bilum aiding around 10 to 15 people.
Having established a growing network of loyal buyers we are now focused on training and reaching more communities of women – recently, the weavers asked us to implement a training program in order to reach more communities so the industry can further flourish.
Proudly, we are now selling through 12 countries and 52 retailers, our Bilum circle continues to grow.
NUMBERS TO NOTE
WEAVER LED TRAINING
Florence Jaukae Kamel is known throughout PNG as Bilum Meri, an endearing term that translates to woman weaver or super woman.
In 2015, Florence identified a need for the weavers to expand their knowledge on market challenges and it was agreed that Among Equals would fund community-led initiatives to guide the women to develop skills for the international market. Specifically, this relates to ongoing training on quality control, leadership, delivery timeframes, consistency and preparing the Bilum for shipping.
In 2015, AMONG EQUALS worked with 30 weavers. In 2023, we count more than 2,000 weavers across 8 communities.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA TRIP - JUNE 2023
In June 2023, the Among Equals team travelled to the village of Goroka, in Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands Province, to reunite with the weaving communities for a special Bilum market celebration.
This latest Goroka meeting marked an important opportunity to come together: there are tight deadlines to navigate but, more crucially, many of the women are living without electricity, they suffer from
endemic health problems and domestic violence, and the Sepik River has recently polluted from oil spills which now come up through the ground.
Through all of this, the women remain positive, generous, the most joyful spirits. How best to tell their stories? To capture a sense of their resilience, Sherman invited Sydney-based photographer Hannah Scott-Stevenson, a longtime collaborator, to lens a series of illuminating portraits that speaks to the strength of the weavers.
Earlier this year, we teamed with Books 4 PNG Kids, an organisation headed up by Heather Doonan which is helping to improve early reader literacy in Papua New Guinea. To support the cause, we called on our community to donate children’s books to our store, which were then distributed to schools in some of the most remote regions. We had an overwhelming response with 120 kilograms of books sent to PNG.
During our 2023 visit to Papua New Guinea, we provided the weavers with 82 pairs of shoes that were kindly donated by the Sydney-based brand Jac + Jack, and we supplied hundreds of reading spectacles to assist those women with failing eyesight.
This year we also installed solar panels at the Blue Haus studio and we are working towards developing additional Blue Haus spaces for other communities that we work to support.
We also hosted a community drive for unwanted jumpers and knitwear which was sent to the weavers to be used as upcycled yarns in their Bilum.
“We recently learned that an order for 100 Bilum enabled a community of 50 women to send their children to school and support their families for a year.”
- Maggie Kera, an AMONG EQUALS brand ambassador who connects us to weavers in Port Moresby