Only a handful of the 1,000-odd employees of Selyn, Sri Lanka’s only fair trade-guaranteed handloom company, are men. “This may seem very unfair to them,” says Selyna Peiris, Director Business Development, “we don’t put obstacles in their way but this industry is traditionally dominated by women.” Selyn was started up by Selyna’s mother Sandra Wanduragala back in 1991, with the help of CBI. “She came back from her training in the Netherlands full of good ideas,” Peiris recalls. “And CBI has been an important partner from the start.”
Selyn is now improving the lives of Sri Lankan women. It owns and manages five workshops in different locations. It also employs some 80 home workers and has helped found and/or upgrade 13 independent workshops in other parts of the island. “We started these workshops years ago when a key employee became a grandmother. Her family needed her, but so did we, so she suggested we bring the work to her. She now employs 15 people.” Independent workshops help Selyn to retain a broad base of artisans, increase its production capacity and turn women into entrepreneurs. It also provides training in quality control, waste reduction, production targets and HR skills.
Peiris explains that women there have few options to work locally. Many find work abroad, sometimes with scant legal protection and they frequently suffer physical and mental abuse, or worse. Being away also causes huge domestic issues. “I’m very pleased that many of these women no longer need to work abroad because they can earn about the same working for us.”
All woven materials are produced in the handloom workshops, and the Selyn Toy Factory, then home workers do the finishing. From the start, Selyn’s primary exports have been children’s soft toys, with some designs being innovative, interactive and even educational. In 2015 Selyn’s toys, home textiles and jewellery collections will be presented at the Ambiente trade fair in Frankfurt, Germany.
In its growth ambitions Selyn does face challenges, mainly high staff turnover. The older women gradually drop out, while the younger ones often leave when they start families. “In the long term we may have to move on to industrial looms, so that we can continue to provide our artisans with a sustainable livelihood based on fair-trading principles. But thanks to players like us the craft of weaving continues to innovate and survive.”> Read the full article