To kick off 2022, I wrote my first newsletter on the importance of finding — and spreading — joy in these difficult times, reflecting on the life’s work of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his belief that joy can be found in a life of serving others, in fighting for justice, in leading from a moral compass and an unshakeable faith.
This week, I am thinking about a different kind of joy. The joy of creation and the joy that comes from appreciating and sharing beauty, culture and community.
Susan Hull Walker went on a journey to find all of that… and then to find a way to share it. In 2015, she founded the Ibu Movement which works with women artisans around the world to preserve and uplift the cultural arts, the heritage skills and the community stories that she found in her travels.
Today, the Ibu Movement collaborates with more than 100 groups of artisans in 40 countries offering a path to financial self-sufficiency for the artisans via a website, a bricks and mortar store and pop-up shops.
“I’m humbled by the trusting, reciprocal relationships Ibu has with women around the world. These artisans count on Ibu for work, and we count on them to bring the world the finest of their craft,” says Susan.
In many cases, these uniquely handmade textiles and jewelry are created with skills that the Western world has lost or devalued. Most importantly, they also carry women’s stories that might otherwise be lost to history.
It was that — the stories that Susan uncovered when sitting with and working with the beading collectives, the textile weavers, the glass etchers, the bone jewelry makers — that propelled her to leave her first calling as a minister to pursue this mission. She had studied world religions at Harvard Divinity School and served as a minister in Maine, San Francisco, and Charleston, SC.
But, she says, it was her study of textiles that opened her eyes to something she was missing as a minister…a woman’s way of recording her mind and her soul. What she didn’t find in sacred texts written by men, she found in textiles — spun, woven, dyed and embellished — by women.
She returned to school to study fiber arts, learning to weave and interpret the languages of cloth, and then she went searching for that language and the stories that artisans were sharing in their craft.
Textiles, she realized, have been for centuries a woman’s text.
“Before I began this work,” says Saranto, a member of the BeadWORKS collective in Kenya, “I relied solely on my husband. I was sitting at home with nothing. Since joining BeadWORKS, I have my own source of income and can decide what I want for my family. I feel like I am a queen in my own household. I support my husband. I pay for school, buy food, dress well — I am supporting the whole family. I’m in a very different place.”
The Ibu Collective includes over 10,000 women artisans. The Ibu design team collaborates with 50 groups of artisans to create unique designs for Ibu, and for the other 50 design groups, Ibu serves as a global distributor at its online store — ibumovement.com — and in the flagship Ibu shop on King Street in Charleston, S.C.
Allies in over 200 countries come to the Ibu website, and over 35,000 allies in the movement (followers, customers, donors) lend support to the Ibu Movement. Susan also writes an email newsletter, Ibulliance, highlighting the beautiful creations and the perspectives of artisans each week. You can sign up for the newsletter at the Ibu Movement website. (Scroll down and click “Join the Movement.”)
Ibu is a Malay word, an honorific for a woman, addressing her with respect, and recently, Susan has honored me by inviting me to be a Global Ambassador for the Ibu Movement. As I am committed to elevating women’s work at every opportunity — and yes, I do love wearing and purchasing the work of artisans — becoming an ambassador for Ibu artisans is a privilege…and like Susan, I find joy in sharing their creations and stories.
“When a woman turns her language of craft into livelihood,” says Susan. “When she reaches independence, seizes choice, finds respect; when she leads a village, sends her daughter to school; and joins other women around the world in rising up, there is joy. That’s what the Ibu Movement is all about. Joy on the move. The women who make and wear Ibu work hard, walk proud and earn their way in the world. Beauty matters. Joy wins!”
P.S. – To celebrate and introduce Ibu to those who haven’t yet discovered it, Susan is offering a 15% discount for those who shop women’s artisan goods here in the next two weeks! Use the code PatMitchell15 at checkout. Enjoy!