BW Trading was initiated in 1991. The original concept was to model the business on a fair trade model using examples like Oxfam and The Body shop as examples of businesses to aspire to. Fred Hollows was also an inspiration. We began by custom making our own designs in a range of handcrafted products, mainly from the remote Kashmir region. Over time a number of other handicrafts were tried, many did not succeed and some did. It is with Kashmir that we have been working without a break for over 20 years.
Although we loved what we did then, it was when we decided to start making traditional handicrafts with Aboriginal artwork images that the project really began to develop, creating real income and sustainability for artisans, as well as the artists, who were offered new opportunities through these projects.
Interestingly, there was a level of opposition to what we were doing. Some said that Aboriginal people did not like us using their images for products and that we were devaluing their art. The Aboriginal artists saw it very differently. They understood the opportunities being offered and were pleased to have a vehicle that could take their culture into the homes of mainstream Australians as well as international communities. There is no culture of manufacturing in Aboriginal society. Artefacts are produced as one off items and material possessions were kept to a minimum, as baggage did not suit the hunter - gathering life style. These projects value add to the artist's fine work, their stories and values, offering them a culturally appropriate way to earn sustainable incomes. We understood that an artist would not expose us to images that were not considered safe to reproduce on product. There are sacred images and stories, these are not given out to the uninitiated. Essentially, there are social mechanisms that maintain cultural heritage keeping it in the right hands. We did not try to interfere with these mechanisms.
The preconception of the untouchability of Aboriginal art did cause us some grief and hindrance, but over time we have been able to disseminate the message that artists choose what they will publish and how. We work closely with the artists, or alternatively with the managers of the art centres. They are familiar with our products and are happy with the chance to participate in the mainstream economy.
We continue to evolve in an ever changing world. Mass production is squeezing out handicrafts. The GFC had a detrimental effect on the handmade, the market demands cheaper products now, and it becomes more difficult for the traditional artisans to maintain their lifestyle and market share. We continue to innovate, finding ways to keep traditional and remote communities functional, and bring their beauty to the world.