Amidst the rolling mountains that surround Malkerns in Swaziland, a clothes line sways in the wind outside a farmhouse. Brightly coloured fabrics of all different sizes, shapes and fabrics adorn the line that appears against the landscape of the Mlilwane Nature Reserve. This is the home of Baobab Batik; a design studio that has produced handmade batik for the past 21 years.
When founder Els Hooft first arrived in West Africa she came across the art of batik. She was so inspired, she decided to teach herself this intricate skill.
Els and her husband moved to Swaziland in 1985, where she was provided with the opportunity to train others in the batik method. Baobab Batik officially opened in 1991 and Els built a workshop behind a curio shop in Malkerns, where the business stayed until the studio was built at their farm in 2005.
Batik techniques are not a traditional Swazi craft, so Els has genuinely blazed the trail for this art form in Swaziland:
"I have been lucky because when I arrived here the shops were filled with crafts from the rest of Africa. However, the local craft industry has grown over the past 27 years and it has put Swaziland on the map.
"What is very motivating is that here we collaborate, and it's a very good feeling. We are all interested in creating employment."
Baobab Batik provides income for over 30 women in Swaziland. So that they could grow their knowledge to continue this vital work, they enrolled on the Handcraft business training programme funded by Shared Interest Foundation.
Following the training, Baobab Batik developed an 18 month plan for the business, which has involved:
- reflecting production costs in their pricing
- rebranding their business to reflect batik as their unique selling point
- creating a process to develop their products
A direct result of this has been an increase in sales. For instance, Baobab Batik generated over 29,000 ZAR (£1,800) in sales over three days at the SWIFT Handcraft Market as part of the MTN Bushfire International Festival of the Arts.
Perhaps what is most exciting is that the organisation has grown from a business which was mainly run by its owner, Els, into a streamlined staff team with several departments. Crucially, this allows Els to focus on product development and the overall vision of Baobab Batik for the exciting future that lies ahead.