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Social-oriented textiles: when design meets social engagement
From Spain and Sardinia to Romania, here are three companies that mix design and social activism.
A Tisca craftsman in the workshop of Cisnadie, in Romania - courtesy Tisca
As the textile industry is being questioned on a global scale for its biased and unsustainable practices, we look at three European enterprises that - from Spain to Romania, passing through Sardinia - are doing their bits to positively sustain the local communities where they operate. Either through the revival of traditional techniques or by actively engaging with minorities and disadvantaged people they all share the same desire of mixing design and social activism.
Detail of weaving bobbins - courtesy TISCA
Tisca Rugs - Romania
With the great change in the markets of the 1980s - when delocalisation became the common practice also for small and medium-sized enterprises - the Austrian Tisca was forced to completely rethink its identity in order to stay competitive. Twenty years ago the company entirely moved its production of wool rugs to Romania - a country that had almost lost its legacy with the tradition of weaving - in search for low wage policies and a well-educated workforce.
If there is a fact Walter Aigner - Tisca’s managing partner - could not agree more with is that “one needs to see the whole production with his/her own eyes in order to understand how we work”. This is why the company regularly invites young designers to visit the production site in Transylvania before starting a collaboration. A custom that also helps to question the myths that surround Romania - a country that, in the minds of many, simply remains the destination for companies on the edge of bankruptcy that wish to find cheap labour force.
Two interiors with handmade carpets by Tisca - courtesy TISCA
An assumption that Aigner seems eager to upgrade through socially engaged projects, deeply rooted within the contrasted Romanian cultural context. So - in parallel to the medium size factory that employs around 150 workers and that produces nordic style rugs following old weaving methods - back in 2014 the company set up a small workshop in a Roma village, few kilometres away from the main production site. The small building - equipped with four handlooms - provides some of the local women with a place to work and a regular income, thus hoping to break the vicious circle of poverty, but also to fight the prejudices that surround the Roma community nationally and internationally.
The carpet Olbia, produced in Cisnadie, Romania - courtesy TISCA
Teixidors - Spain
Helping people at risk of exclusion by giving them the opportunity to be economically independent - while evolving within a dynamic working environment - wasn’t a widely spread concept in Spain, back in 1983. “That is why Teixidors’ social engagement caused a little revolution at the time”, explains Sofia Agerberth, the company’s export manager.
Hands of craftsmen - courtesy Teixidors
It took the company’s founders - Juan Ruiz and his wife Marta Ribas (who was working in psychiatry with people with mental illness) - long researches before they finally found out that weaving was already used in Northern Europe for therapeutical reasons. Strong of this discovery, the couple decided to open a small workshop in Terrassa (Catalonia, Spain) - one of Spain’s textile production centres. “Teixidors started with 5 people who were trained at weaving”, underlines Agerberth and “even the looms were made in-house because this very specific type wasn’t available in Spain back then”.
At Teixidors, each piece is being warped, threaded, woven by hand - courtesy Teixidors
Despite the company’s growth, Teixidors’ products still acknowledge the strength and value of the long production time that requires a handmade manufacture process. “Each piece is being warped, threaded, woven, quality checked, washed, ironed and wrapped by hand”, highlights Agerberth, “so until you see it with your own eyes it is difficult to understand the full circle and the amount of work which is put into the products. Each piece holds the footprint of its weaver.”
Jazz Fussion: a collection of handmade blankets in cashmere - courtesy Teixidors
Casa Lussu - Sardinia, Italy
At Casa Lussu in Armungia (Sardinia, Italy), the footprint of the weaver is being looked at through a more territorial and historical perspective. A vision that is based on the principle that traditional weaving techniques deeply relate to the cultural landscape - from the local economy to the natural environment - within which they evolved over time. As advocators of the practice of weaving as a precious intangible heritage, Barbara Cardia and Tommaso Lussu - together with Barbara’s grandmother and master weaver Giovanna Serri - have been actively studying and promoting this ancestral technique since the foundation of the Cultural Association Casa Lussu, back in 2014.
Carpet with traditional Armungian pattern - courtesy Casa Lussu
Ranging from the production of textiles and rugs inspired by Armungia’s historic weaving techniques known as the "priali" and the "pappus" - the organisation regularly proposes workshops that help to spread the word on the importance of the conservation and the protection of traditional practices. Yet, in protecting intangible cultural heritage lies a danger of fixing the practices forever, when it should be continuously evolving and metamorphosing. A risk that Casa Lussu actively challenges by “revisiting the past with a more contemporary influence”, instead of replicating old traditional patterns, as Cardia underlines.
On the left: Giovanna Serri, the "craft memory" of Armungia; on the right: a realisation of Casa Lussu - courtesy Casa Lussu
“The community that is growing around Casa Lussu is composed by people who value the importance of cultural heritage, and want - within the framework of public action - to support and transmit [this know-how] to future generations”, she argues. Thus insisting on the role of handicraft as a fundamental tool to empower people and open up the dialogue between a wide range of industries.
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