Each design symbolises an important element of the weaver's daily life: be it family, fertility or animals; for instance, if you marry, your mother will weave you a diamond pattern, and when you own your own piece of land you will receive a mountain design. Every bag embodies a special storytelling tradition that is woven into the fabric, and each weaver crafts her own signature pattern.
Each Bilum is handwoven and takes around eight weeks to make. The weavers’ beautiful natural fibres are created from surrounding vegetation, such as the Pandanus plant and Tulip tree. These fibres are beaten, rolled on the knee and then twisted into fine yarns. Alternatively, the women work with yarns which have been upcycled, a lengthy process which involves unraveling knitted jumpers and spindling the thread to form fine new lengths.
We adore the weavers’ clever colourplay, which is always so joyous and surprising – natural dyes made from plants, ochres and berries are used to enhance their patterns. It’s a very considered approach, a testament to the women’s exceptional artisanal skills and their philosophy to work holistically using natural or recycled materials.
Among Equals Bilum bags are handwoven by artisan weavers in Papua New Guinea, and through our not-for-profit endeavour we are committed to honouring and promoting their tradition and craft on a global platform. The impact is deep and measurable.
Each Bilum bag is unique, a one-of-a-kind work of art particular to the weaver and her home region in The Highlands, Telefomin or Sepik River regions. Their woven patterns are culturally significant talismans that speak of independence and strength.
Among Equals brings together two future-forward themes: craft and community. To date, we work with more than 2,000 women in Papua New Guinea, and we do this by collaborating closely with region leaders and aggregators:
Florence Jaukae Kamel joined the brand in the role of aggregator and ambassador in 2015. Florence is based in Goroka and works with the weaving communities, arranging training workshops and buying days. These market events are held at the Blue Haus, a peaceful studio space built by our brand at the request of the weavers in 2017, and it is here the women regularly come together to show their Bilum, socialise, weave or receive training.
We also work with Lina Singu (pictured), an Among Equals brand aggregator and ambassador who oversees the Sepik River region. In a small motorboat, Lina is able to reach some of the most remote regions in the country. Along the way, she is met by groups of women, who gather at the river banks to sell their Bilum.
Through our not-for-profit endeavour we have worked to identify and engage key local and international buyers in the global fashion market to grow the industry. To date, we have sold more than 4,000 Bilum bags throughout 12 countries.
DISCOVER THE MEANING BEHIND THE DESIGN
The Skin Pik design is local to Goroka and symbolises when when women came together to eat, those with higher status were treated to finer parts of the pig, the women of lower status were left to wait. The design speaks of independence and empowerment.
This design is known as the Join Join or Arrow Tip. The sharp cutting edge of the arrow was once used against the enemy, and is a very dangerous weapon. Today, it is a symbol of strength and resilience.
The Spider Web tells the story of a mother teaching her daughter how to weave Bilum. The daughter is tired and taking too long, she looks up at the corner of the hut and sees a spider, busy spinning its web. The mother tells her child she needs patience to learn the craft.
The story behind the Diamond design is rich in culture and is held dear to the women of Papua New Guinea, not only is it a symbol of abundance and prosperity, traditionally in Goroka it is given to a newlywed as a sign of wealth and prosperity for their new married life.
The 2 Needle Design tells the story of two orphans, a brother and sister. The brother told his sister to go and spy on the village women to see how they weave. The sister did just that and taught herself the craft of Bilum.