Quazi was hit hard by Covid. The company is based in Eswatini, and their local stockists rely heavily on tourists. So when the holiday trade stopped, so did wholesale orders. Africa went into lockdown, and many of the company’s artisan makers had to return to their rural homes, because they couldn’t afford to stay in the city.
Furlough and government grants don’t exist in Africa, there is no aid for the self-employed, so the Quazi artisans had lost their safety net. Doron managed to pay her makers for few months but, understandably, couldn’t continue. 60% of Eswatini’s rural population live below the poverty line and more than a quarter of all young children suffer from chronic malnutrition. Covid 19 hit the vulnerable in particular and food security became an issue. When you rely on a daily income, it’s all too easy to fall into poverty.
“For a few months everything stopped” says designer and founder of the company Doron Shaltiel, “then slowly we gathered ourselves. We needed to survive this; our women depend on this income. We needed to refocus, to be creative, to think what really matters”.
And then Doron had a brainwave. Permaculture! Most women have a piece of land they can farm; part of their family’s homestead, a garden at home, an allotment in the city, or access to a family member’s garden.
Quazi partnered with two community organisations (permaculture education centres) in Eswatini; Guba and Mbabane Urban Gardens. All Quazi artisans – 13 women – were taken on to be trained in organic farming and they secured six month internships with Guba for four ladies who were ready to farm. The aim was for each of them to have their own productive food garden, serving to increase their skill set, provide food security and improve their physical and mental health. This was a radical, grassroots approach, working together as a community and using this time as an opportunity to train, plant, and set the system up.
The long term plan was for the artisans to return to full-time work whilst tending to their gardens. So, to help the company survive, over lockdown, Doron pushed direct online sales, realising that consumers are interested in purchasing sustainably and from independent businesses, keen to know how pieces are made. She introduced clever “make your own” necklace and mobile kits. The artisans crafted the beads in their homes, shipped them to Doron in the UK who packaged them beautifully for children to make themselves, in lockdown. “A connection. Home-to-home: says Doron.
And the innovation didn’t stop there. New products are in the pipeline, printed, organic cotton bags and cushions, lights for a shop in Cape Town. The company is focussing on homeware as people spend more time hunkered down, and gift boxes, as people want to send gifts. “Fingers crossed this all works out” says Doron.
Orders are slowly coming back in; Quazi are currently employing their artisans part-time as demand isn’t quite there yet, so it’s not worth artisans spending all their income on the bus journey to the central workshop in Mbabane. However, Doron is optimistic that she can get them all back to work full time. Her cunning, innovation and adaptability have meant that her workers have a real chance of keeping their jobs, their dignity and that their future feels a little more secure.
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