This basket reflects the memorable colors of the Ghanaian countryside. The Asungtaba bicycle basket is woven from veta vera grass in the Northern region of Ghana. Whether used for small grocery trips, a catch all of small accessories or simply for a fashion statement, these incredibly durable baskets are sure to be a conversation piece. Their usefulness is outweighed only by their exquisite construction and passion with which each artisan crafts these baskets.
It started with an inspired remark by a House of Talents employee: “Wouldn’t these beautiful baskets make a lovely bicycle basket?” We had been working with Joseph and his community of Ghanaian basket weavers for only a few months. Yet, we knew the idea would help the weavers diversify their product line and reach a wider audience.
When we approached Joseph and the community of basket weavers, they welcomed the idea with enthusiasm. As it always seems to happen, it was just at this moment – the moment when opportunity needs a vehicle – that Quality Bicycle Products (QBP), a distributor of bicycle parts, accessories and apparel, entered the story.
A company built on community and environmental stewardship, QBP has been successfully executing on a business vision that masterfully balances business sustainability, recreation and service for over 25 years. The alignment of values and mission couldn’t be found in a more appropriate partner.
A series of ideas and designs were sent to Joseph, and in return came a series of rather amusing iterations. The first prototype had no provision for bicycle straps; the second took on the persona of a picnic basket and was large enough to hold a baby. The third prototype resembled a cylindrical cooler, which was innovative and excellently woven, but not exactly suitable for use as a bicycle basket.
The final prototype was developed after a trip toGhana, which allowed the House of Talents team to provide feedback directly to the artisans and help them make the necessary modifications. The community got to work and promised to send a new prototype as soon as they had perfected it.
Over the next month, Kate received several calls from Joseph with the faint voices of community members in the background. They were eager to know what she thought of their work, and each time it became more difficult to explain that the baskets had yet to arrive. Even across thousands of miles, it was easy to hear that Joseph was bursting with pride over their efforts, but wasn’t quite ready to let the cat out of the proverbial bag.
In April 2010, House of Talents Minneapolis headquarters received the first shipment of bicycle baskets, which were quickly presented to QBP for feedback. Kate was able to call Joseph and his community and share the excitement over the amazing work they had created. Kate proudly displays a few of the original baskets in her office, where they continue to serve as a reminder of what is possible when we dare to believe in something and challenge ourselves to make it happen. This is exactly what those involved did and what the talented poor can do when they are given the chance. There is always a chance to create magic through collaboration.
With support from QBP and other retailers who have since joined us, the bicycle baskets are providing income to over 1000 Ghanaian women in Joseph’s community. Additionally, House of Talents is providing health insurance for the basket weavers, establishing a library and a scholarship fund for the children in the community in which our basket weavers reside. As you can see, stewardship and opportunity can partner when simply inspired by those who take time to care.
Be inspired along with us! Happy Riding.
Care of Basket: To reshape: wet your basket (avoid getting the leather wet as it will damage the leather over time), let it sit for a few minutes for it to absorb the water, then shape. Let dry thoroughly. Avoid prolonged direct sunlight – since all dyes used are natural without artificial sealants, they will fade over time.
“Man on a mission”
How do you weave 25 baskets in a single day? Joseph knows. “We got the community together and told them of your desire to help us. Then we each wove our best basket so you will come back and order more. The community has a need and we are eager to work.”
~ Joseph, Master Basket Weaver, Northern Ghana
Joseph ended his schooling after high school so that his younger sisters could afford an education through his work as a basket weaver. When we placed our first order, he got his community of men, women, and teenagers to work together to weave baskets, fulfilling his vision of a community prospering with dignity and economic independence. We are currently working with a community of twenty five members, but Joseph hopes our partnership will provide income to the community and nearby villages – with a goal of reaching two hundred community members.
We were not going to sell baskets until we met Joseph. Joseph is a basket weaver… sort of, whose story inspired us. Basket weaving is a family tradition and he has been weaving baskets since he was 12 years old. He completed secondary school (the equivalent of High school in the US), but with an ailing and aging father, he had to put his educational aspirations on hold as his family could no longer financially support his and his two younger sisters’ education. He said, “I stopped school to weave baskets so my younger sisters could at least get a high school education, for a woman without education will not attract an educated man, which might lead to uneducated children.”
He took us to his home and showed us his family and his beautiful sisters who were all weaving baskets. “I don’t think I am a businessman,” he told us. He only wants to help his community gain economic independence, aspire to such things as getting an education and live with dignity. He commented, thinking aloud, “Maybe one day I can have my own store.” It sounded more like a prayer let out to God. I was curious to know how he would handle a big order and he answered with, “You see all those huts? We all have been weaving baskets since we were kids, God brought you to us, we will do it.”
Once back in the US, I called Joseph to order 25 baskets as a test before we had any orders just to see how all of this was going to work out. He called me the next day with excitement and breathlessly shouted down the poor reception phone line, “It is done!” Perturbed, I asked him how he could have woven 25 baskets in a day; how is the quality, are they all going to be same colors…? Patiently, he explained to me how he couldn’t possibly weave 25 baskets in a day even if he skipped sleep and he added, “What you asked for needs more work.” Rather, he got his community together and told them to each weave their best basket, because if the baskets turned out well then I would come back and order more. And if I ordered more, then the whole community would gain economically. He also informed me that the community working together reduces envy, promotes goodwill and creates varied and high quality baskets. “The whole community could use your help,” he said, and he sent me a picture he had taken to show me my new extended family.
Joseph always leaves you something to think about after every conversation and we will continue to share his story and his community with you.
Check out his amazing creations here.
History of Baskets
Evidence tells us that humans have been making and using baskets for as long as we can trace, making basket weaving one of the oldest art forms known. These ancient baskets were used for a variety of reasons, based primarily on the geographical needs of the weavers; those who lived near water created baskets to help with fishing needs, while people living inland wove baskets that aided them with harvesting, carrying, and storing grains.
The variety of weaves and materials used worldwide make for thousands of different types and styles of baskets; it has been said that baskets are a reflection of the diverseness found in the population today. Each individual weaver creates their own masterpieces with varying weaves, materials, colors, and patterns. The purpose for which the basket was woven also factors into the intricate designs; some are woven tight enough to hold water, while others are made with a more open weave.
Traditional basket weavers use materials they have at hand to create the baskets needed sustain their lives. The materials historically consist of natural fibers which can be found in the native environment. Examples of typical fibers include many varieties of grasses, vines, trees, and roots. Essentially, any material flexible and strong enough to withstand weaving can be used. Baskets vary not only across geographies and cultures, but also within the regions in which they are created, based on the creator and the materials available in the immediate area.
When the trading and selling of goods between distant lands became common, items to be traded or sold were stored in baskets to accommodate the many forms of transportation. Because these baskets traveled across seas and continents, weaving styles and designs were ultimately distributed throughout the world and shared across cultures; some were adopted for practical use, others coveted for their craftsmanship and attractiveness.
Just the same as ages past, baskets today are used for functional purposes and are also appreciated as forms of art. Many are collected and displayed simply for their beauty. True basket weaving is still done by hand, so it remains an art form: handmade and quite personal, carrying the artistic signature of the person who made it.
Whether you have baskets in your home to store and organize, or for the uniqueness and beauty, please enjoy them. Someone, somewhere has put much effort and artistic touch into your hand-made basket, and it is indeed, special and one of a kind.