2012 Study Tour: Learning Lessons at the Fairtrade Felt Factory

Have you ever been to a felt factory? Did you even know that there was such a thing? Well as of yesterday, I have, and it is awesome! One of the things that struck me about the factory were all the wonderful colours! On one wall were rolls of felt of every kind of colour you could imagine! On another wall, were folded sheets of felt in just about the same rainbow-range of colours! Then up on the roof were assorted piles of felt balls drying in the sun. In the factory room, which I can hardly begin to describe as there is so much to take in, there is a group of about 12 women sitting on the floor in a circle happily working away. In the middle of the circle is the most aesthetically pleasing pile of multicoloured felt balls you have ever seen! As many of our group pointed out, it looks like a miniature version of those children's ball pits! And we were just as keen to dive into this pile – though in the end we thought better of it...

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To be honest, as excited as I am about the colours of the felt factory, I am more excited about the story behind this factory.

This factory has been set up for a few years now as a training and working centre for many Nepali women who come and work and earn a fair wage in good working conditions. For many of the women, especially those who have young children, flexibility in work is essential, so many of them can work from home and can also work at a couple of different centres close to home when they can leave their children in someone else's care. We were privileged to meet the manager, Maheshwor and some of the workers yesterday. They graced us with the unique insights to teach us how to make felt balls from the coloured wool; the process of rolling, forming, drying, counting and stitching. We also witnessed some of the women making felt bags, sewing brooches and hair ties, and were able to see the wonderful range of products that they make. Many products I haven't seen before and so it was very exciting to see them directly and maybe I can include them in my catalogue of Seven Women products that I sell at Sydney markets. This factory only operates through wholesale orders, which means they don't have a shopfront. Although it would have been great to buy some stuff from them, we also know that wholesale orders are a more sustainable option for them.

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It was wonderful to sit and watch the women work, they were all thrilled to have us there, and although language barriers stopped us from talking, nothing could stop us exchanging smiles, and 'Namaste's'. As if their presence weren't enough, we were given a beautiful gift of a felt ball necklace, which I can safely say we all wore with pride and humility (including the boys!). It truly was a wonderful experience. After months of selling Seven Women felt products at markets in Sydney, I can finally say I have seen where it is made, how it is made, who makes it, how much work goes into each product, and how it is helping the women. What a privilege to be a part of this work which is all about empowering women and giving them training, education, employment and community.