THE FULL STORY - HOW IT ALL BEGAN...
I was living in New York City, as one does in their late 20’s looking for fresh, new horizons, when I first noticed the then huge divide between products sophisticated and elegant in their aesthetics and yet carelessly manufactured and on the other hand, products that were incredibly hand crafted, qualified as ‘fair trade’ and yet often poorly designed. I began to question, why does ‘Fair Trade’ also often mean clashing, bright colours, tribal patterns or gritty textured cloths? Why can’t there be beautifully, simply styled, soft products, made with fairness, honesty, respect and love where money is put directly into the hands of the makers while also creating something that is thoughtfully designed no matter what the season? This is where Once Was Lost was born.
From here, I began my search to partner with groups of artisans, skilled in their crafts who were willing to extend their designs to embrace the paired back, natural style that I loved. My searching led me to Ethiopia with a rich history of textiles and hand looming. On our first visit to Ethiopia, the thing that struck me most was the humble beauty and simplicity of traditional production - completely by hand. Whilst every part of the manufacturing process to produce our textiles could be mechanised, we believe in the quality and opportunity that nurturing age-old techniques provides. From the spinning of the cotton on time-aged wooden spindles, to the way in which our natural fibres are dyed in small pot batches, to the fringing, rolled and finished knot by knot by a group of women, often found chatting outside together in a garden setting - every part of the process was made with love and celebrates the phenomenal skills of each of the people who have played a role in producing each piece.
The goal of Once Was Lost has always been two fold. To create timeless, luxuriously hand crafted products and to promote sustainable employment for the artisans crafting them. I recognised early on that if we could generate enough momentum around the quality and beauty of our products here in Australia and internationally then we would create sustainable employment for these makers; and if we partner that with personal mentoring, skills development and nurturing together we could change not just one persons life, but impact entire communities and the generations that follow.
From here, the business developed. We are a ‘for-profit’ business - profit for our artisans who are paid for work that honours, embraces and uses their gifts and skills and hopefully, profit for us to support our small business right here in Australia. We choose to collaborate personally with our artisans giving them the opportunity to stay with their families and work from their homes as part of their community - allowing the women to enjoy their children as they work and be close to often their husbands or uncles near by who weave on the looms. We work with a different business model that best benefits our artisans - providing them first with all the materials, fibres, equipment including traditional wooden looms as well as solar lighting that they are able to use for their homes and once the products are loomed, we then buy back the finished product at the price set by the artisans, so they are never out of pocket and are paid far above “Fair Trade” wages for their craft. We also work closely with our makers to educate them on everything from health to finance; guiding them on saving their money to pay for their children’s education, valuing their work, forward planning, building and growing for the future. For us, it’s all about creating opportunity for the men and women we work with to be strong, to have a voice, a sense of self-respect and a genuine feeling of pride in the work they do - gaining a sense of hope that they will then pass onto their children.
Every Once Was Lost product sold supports this craftsmanship and nurtures this generational sustainability and impact. It’s our greatest desire that you would embrace each item with as much love as has been poured into it by the artisans who have created it. Whether cocooning yourself and a loved one up in one of our traveller throws or keeping a scarf near by to wrap yourself in warmth, I hope each piece would become a treasured part of making memories throughout your life and where ever the road takes you.
Laura & the Once Was Lost team xx