As founder and creative director, Jessica Cassell’s ambition for Papua New Guinea’s Bilum & Bilas is for the venture to be well-known internationally as “a brand that has best practice around in working with artisans and working with cultural creative industries.”
The brand, which sells bilums, jewellery and a small homewares range internationally, aims to “honour and celebrate traditional artisan skills, whilst providing meaningful and fair employment for the women,” Cassell says.
Cassell first travelled to PNG in 2008 as volunteer working on HIV awareness. She was struck by the iconic traditional craft of bilum weaving, describing them as “works of art”.
She initially started buying bilums for her own extensive collection, then expanded into on-selling them.
“I knew from being in the rest of the world essentially, that I’d never come across it [bilums]. So I realised there were other people like me, and that there were women in PNG who were struggling, who wanted to sell more because they had really limited market access.
“I guess that’s sort of initially where the idea came from, and it just seemed that it just needed a bit of support to connect the dots, you know, connecting the supply and demand.”
In considering how to expand the venture, Cassell reflected on development, ‘capacity building’ and economic empowerment projects she had seen that sought to teach women new skills. She saw things differently: “ I was thinking, well there’s all this potential for economic opportunities from skills the women already have, instead of having to capacity build from scratch. We harness what women are already capable and excelling at, to [create] something more formalised.”
As part of its response to COVID,Bilum & Bilas has been able to access some support from Pacific Trade Invest to meet freight costs. To read more about Bilum & Bilas’ evolution, login to your account or subscribe today.