Entrepreneurship and digital marketing upskilling breathes in new life to a weaver community in East Nusa Tenggara

Aided by entrepreneurship and digital marketing knowledge gained from Kami Latu's training in East Nusa Tenggara in mid-2021, Viktoria Liba led Dahlia weaving community to spread their wings and reach a wider market via digital platform. 

Members of Dahlia weaving community in Wae Mose village, South Lembor district, West Manggarai regency, East Nusa Tenggara, can now feel relieved. After experiencing a significant decrease in demand due to COVID-19 pandemic, the sale of their traditional hand-woven cloth, tenun songke, from West Manggarai is improving after they applied their newfound knowledge from a training that was held by Kami Latu Initiative (under of Yayasan Rame- Rame Jakarta) in mid-2021. 

The head of Dahlia community, Viktoria Liba, explained that the “Mandiri Bersama Tenun” (Independence with Weaving) training has helped the women weavers in West Manggarai to sell their products. Not only it improved the welfare and independence of the weavers, according to Viktoria or Ibu Ria to her friends and colleagues, the training and mentoring were also important for maintaining their cultural longevity. 

The training was part of the Employment and Livelihood project, jointly coordinated by ILO and three United Nations (UN) organisations in Indonesia. This program was funded by the UN COVID-19 Response and Recovery Multi-Partner Trust Fund (UN MPTF) with an aim to provide equal opportunities for vulnerable groups, which include women, to access the means of livelihood that can improve their quality of life. 

“We are committed to continue collaborating and holding trainings to support local craftspeople so they can be independent and remain resilient when they are facing a challenging situation, such as the pandemic,” said Navitri Putri Guillaume, ILO’s National Project Officer for the Employment and Livelihood project.

West Manggarai’s songke cloth has been an inseparable part of Ibu Ria’s life and the life of other members of Dahlia weaving community. Ibu Ria explained that she started weaving when she was 25 years old. The cloth she sold have been worn in various cultural events in West Manggarai. “I was taught to weave to continue my family’s tradition by my sister,” said the 53-years-old woman.

Songke cloth is made using natural colour agents such as jackfruit tree branches for yellow, mahogany bark for brown, the roots and branches of secang (Brazilwood) tree for red, tobacco leaf for green, and Indigofera grass for blue. According to Ibu Ria, naturally coloured cloth is favoured by buyers because it is seen to be more environmentally friendly and it does not irritate the skin of the wearer.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic in the beginning of 2020 had led to a significant decrease in demand. Hand-woven clothes produced by the Dahlia community piled up and unsold due to the diminishing number of visitors and the weakening buying power of people in general. “There wasn’t any visitor during the pandemic; it was very quiet and cloth sale went to zero. That was really tough for us,” she said, remembering the difficult situation at the beginning of the pandemic.

This situation encouraged Ibu Ria and Dahlia community to participate in the Independence with Weaving training that was held by Kami Latu at West Manggarai, Flores. During the six months of hybrid training – online and offline, she and other weavers were trained to create weaving patterns and various derivative products from woven cloths, such as earrings, scarfs, and other accessories. 

Ibu Ria explained that the new digital marketing knowledge had really helped the Dahlia weaving community to bounce back in time of the pandemic. The weavers attracted the attention of potential buyers by publishing promotional stories of songke cloths on the “Lipa Tenung” Facebook page that they created after they participated in the training. The members of Dahlia community routinely upload photos and stories of their woven cloths, increasing the number of their followers to more than 1,200. Potential buyers can ask questions and make an order via the email address posted on the page.

“Recently, the growth of sale is significant, as we can sell in average 20 pieces of cloth from four weavers. It is so much more compared to nothing at all at the start of the pandemic,” she said.

She added that the most useful knowledge to maintain the sustainability of Dahlia community is the introduction to basic financial management. The weavers were introduced to methods to calculate their production costs so they could set their sale margin correctly. The weavers also learned to write simple monthly financial report to assess the condition of their finance.