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Taking livelihoods skills to overseas market
A visit to Ibu Rubiah’s Banda Aceh home is a lively affair. Brightly coloured thread sits alongside sewing machines, and her floor is scattered with colourful crochet bags that she proudly produced by hand. Ibu Rubiah’s impressive talents have now been recognized, and through a UNDP Livelihoods programme her products can now also be found in the homes of overseas customers.
Things have not always been so successful for Ibu Rubiah. She survived the 2004 tsunami, but her popular embroidery business was destroyed within seconds. Her sewing machines were ruined, and many of her former employees did not survive. For Ibu Rubiah, it was a difficult and emotional time, and it meant she had to start again from her home in Banda Aceh.
Her efforts were helped in 2005, when she was accepted as a UNDP Livelihoods beneficiary as part of UNDP’s support to DISPERINDAG (the district department of small industries and trades). UNDP’s support to DISPERINDAG is part of its Small Industries and Trades programme in Banda Aceh, Aceh Besar and Aceh Singkil. The UNDP programme focuses on recovering small enterprises that were destroyed during the tsunami. These projects re-established approximately 1,600 small and medium enterprises across these districts, and replaced assets lost in the tsunami.
One of those businesses now belongs to Ibu Rubiah. She received enough sewing machines and equipment to gradually restart her business, and since then she’s attracted customers both at home and abroad.
Ibu Rubiah’s talents caught the eye of two Dutch accessory designers who visited Banda Aceh in 2006. UNDP Jakarta had asked Dutch Design in Development (DDID) to send two designers to Banda Aceh to work with local producers and give them new ideas, with a view to exporting products to Europe. DDID asked designers Marlene Made and Yvonne Bovee (pictured) to make the visit, and UNDP’s Livelihoods team introduced them to Livelihoods beneficiary Ibu Rubiah.
When they first met, Ibu Rubiah made cushion covers and tablecloths. But Marlene and Yvonne liked her unusual design, recognized her talents, and could see there was a potential for her products to be adapted for an international market.
“She was so enthusiastic, and she had a real business attitude,” said Yvonne. “Her technique and skills were very impressive, and we knew immediately that she was very good at what she did. We gave her some suggestions on the type of things she could make for an overseas market, such as using bright and fashionable colours rather than off-white. We also suggested she made items that would be used in Europe, such as shopping bags rather than tissue box covers. Within only three days, she had some great samples to show us. Her eagerness to learn new things was so impressive.”
Explained Ibu Rubiah: “I felt so happy and relieved when Yvonne and Marlene showed an interest in my items. I’d never made bags like the ones they suggested, but I love being creative so I was happy to give it a try. If people give me more suggestions for designs in the future, I’ll try my hardest to make them.”
Marlene and Yvonne took Ibu Rubiah’s samples back to the Netherlands, and presented them at the Sustainable Shopping Centre exhibition in Amsterdam during June. It resulted in them placing an order with Ibu Rubiah for 50 crochet bags.
The products were also displayed at the Via Ventosa exhibition in Eindhoven during July, and Ibu Rubiah’s crochet bags and brooches were also sold. Marlene explained: “We had a very good reaction about the bags, and orders were placed. People commented on the workmanship, and because it was so good they couldn’t believe it was made by hand. Some visitors also said it brought back memories of grandparents who used to crochet. We now need to order more crochet flower brooches, as some colours have already sold out!”
UNDP Livelihoods staff members have worked closely with Ibu Rubiah to help with the project. Programme Associate Jamila Usman explained: “We advised Ibu Rubiah on issues such as quality, packing and posting the items. It’s important they arrive in excellent condition, otherwise it means all her hard work has been for nothing. But she has a great business sense, so she understands this.”
Since the tsunami, Ibu Rubiah has gradually trained new, locally-based employees, and she now has 23 workers. While Ibu Rubiah currently works from her home, she has hopes and plans for the future: “I’d love to buy some land so that I can open a small showroom one day. I plan to start learning how to use the internet so that I can sell my products direct, and also make more souvenirs for visitors.”
Marlene and Yvonne will continue to keep in contact with Ibu Rubiah, and UNDP will continue to give her advice and support when needed. UNDP Livelihoods Programme Manager Said F. Baabud explained: “This initiative is extremely helpful for Acehnese entrepreneurs. It inspires them to design better products that meet the demands of the international market.”
For more information on the UNDP Livelihoods Programme, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
This story also features in the September issue of UNDP Aceh & Nias News, September Edition
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