We’re over the moon that on the 13th June, the Belles of Belvoir female only cycle sportive will be striking out resplendent with Cycle of Good African wax-print bags.
Cycle of Good make bags and accessories from recycled materials such as old bicyle inner tubes. They’re all sewn by fairly paid Malawian tailors in a beautiful workshop that’s powered by the sun. The workshop is an intrinsic part of Beehive Centre for Social Enterprise, a collection of non-profit enterprises, all housed in eco-block buildings; every bit of income generated is used to pay for education and the care of the most vulnerable children in the local community of Chilomoni.
But before the tailors moved to their solar powered workshops, they were housed in temporary buildings in Chilomoni, where there were often power outages. Every time the electricity went off the tailors would switch to old Singer sewing machines, turning the handles by hand. But these machines could just not cope with sewing bulky old inner tubes. So, to plug the gaps and keep the tailors in valuable paid work, we designed a range of African wax-print cotton, or Chintenge -as the cloth is known locally, products that could more easily be sewn on hand-machines which were all donated from the UK.
African wax prints are common materials for clothing in across Africa. They are now industrially produced colorful cotton cloths with batik-inspired printing. The process to make wax print is originally influenced by batik, an Indonesian method of dyeing cloth by using wax-resist techniques. For batik, wax is melted and then patterned across the blank cloth. From there, the cloth is soaked in dye, which is prevented from covering the entire cloth by the wax. If additional colors are required, the wax-and-soak process is repeated with new patterns. There is a complex history to the development of wax-print sometimes controversially entwined with the long history of colonial involvement, but the colourful and vibrant cloths are still prevalent throughout Malawi and the markets are full of lengths of cotton fluttering like flags in the breeze.
Many of the patterns used are traditional; some represent tribal heritage, some are for special occasions such as mother’s day, many are produced by Church groups for religious festivals. We’ve also seen Chitenge produced to celebrate football matches and it’s not uncommon, when walking around Chilomoni, to see women wearing a Manchester United chitenge, or cradling their child in an Arsenal wrap! The pattern on the cloth used for the Belles, is a fairly traditional “gourd” pattern, we chose it simply because we loved the colours!
We hope the Belles of Belvoir love their goody bags, knowing the good they have done in providing fairly paid work for some of the poorest women in the world and helping their children to have the best start in life as well. That’s why it’s called the Cycle of Good!