Mat weaving: engaging craft, boosting local economy
•Tedious, But Rewarding
Though synthetic fibre mats are dominating the market, making the natural ones appear old fashioned, yet, some Nigerians are making money from weaving different sizes and colours of this traditional sleeping material. Some have even gone ahead to split the production of mat into different segments: gathering from planters, drying the stalk, knitting and dyeing, and then selling. Through this, the job has been made easier, faster and more profitable for all in the chain of production.
Explaining the production processes, Ibironke Adetoro, who has been in the business for a while, said mat making is tedious, which is why there are not too many handwoven mats in the market. She explained that it would take a very hardworking weaver four to five days to produce one big coloured mat and if the weaver has to add diagrammes, then more days would be required.
She said though the process is long, starting from farm activities to the smothering, drying, dyeing and weaving, yet the end product does not always yield mouthwatering proceeds that could effectively reward the weaver for his/her labour.
But disputing this, Adenike Adelugba said one has to move beyond the conventional production processes to make good gains from the business. According to her, one person should not necessarily have to undertake the whole process singlehandedly. In her view, the production process should be broken down to make weaving faster, better and more rewarding.
Said she: “We produce close to 30 mats a week. We do this by dividing the whole process into segments. For instance, some people are in charge of acquiring the stalk, while others design and dye, and the third group takes care of the marketing. With this method, I have never regretted venturing into the business.
“The idea of departmentalising mat weaving process has enabled us to produce mat throughout the year, because we could buy as much stalk as is available, store and use them even during the rainy season, when planters are cultivating fresh mat stalk. Besides, the longer you store this major raw material, the drier they become and the better they would be for weaving.”
In many people’s thinking, mats are meant only for sleeping, but Madam Yewande Onitolo, a notable dealer in mat products, said this is far from being the case.
“We make different items from materials used for making mat. These include tablemats; drink covers, sleeping mats, curtains, as well as door blinds. One can experiment with the materials as much as possible. What really matters, however, is knowing how to apply the right technique to achieve the right result.
“We have upgraded our designs. From dry stalks, we can knit different items, including containers for storing fruits. People love the containers because they are natural and do not have any negative effects on food,” she said.
Considering what weavers go through to produce mats, one cannot but wonder whether the reward is worth the efforts. Whendi Oloniyo replied in the affirmative. According to her, the longer and more colourful a mat is, the more money the weaver stands to make.
“I make close to N60, 000 and N80, 000 per month from mat weaving and more during dry season. I try as much as possible to make them beautiful by combining colours and some times inscribing nice diagrammes like flowers. This boosts prices,” she explained.
How is she able to make such large amount from the business? Do people still use the local mats as much as they do the synthetic ones?
Doyin Awelewa, another mat seller said ‘yes,’ as she explained that most buyers prefer local mats to the synthetic ones because they are natural and do not generate heat.
“Though the stalk mat does not last as long as the fibre type, it could serve as a coolant, especially during hot season, when temperature is high. It also absorbs sweat, which could be dried off with a little heat. Some people like it for these reasons. Indeed, one of the many challenges we face is meeting the demand for local mats.
“I make between N20, 000 and 40,000 every market day, which holds fortnightly. From the proceeds I have been able to augment my husband’s income, thereby helping to run the home. I have also been able to build a house. Though the business is tedious, but the reward is very good, if one gets the right market.
“Mat weaving is one business that allows all those involved in the production chain, from the planter to the weaver, the middlemen and retailers to make money,” she said.
On what it takes for a new entrant to get into the business, Adijatu Owonikoko explained that it is more of a traditional trade to some people. According to her, it would be difficult for non-Awori indigenes in Lagos to get into the primary stage of production, which is harvesting the stalk, drying and weaving. She explained that though the stalk is planted and harvested like any other crop, but the Awori people in Lagos claim the ownership.
“The Awori people see the business as their traditional craft and would do anything to protect it in Lagos. However, other aspects such as buying and selling is open to all, and non-Awori people are making good money supplying either the dye, or playing the role of middlemen in the sales of the finished product. They buy from the Awori people and take to different places, even to the Benin Republic.
“But for those who are willing to play along with the Awori people, the business does not require a huge sum to start. With between N20, 000 and N50, 000 one can start it, as the job is done mainly in the open. It is a business that does not require large shops or warehouses, because the product could be wrapped and kept outside, but away from dew and rain.
“Also, a new entrant should be able to undergo three to five months training on how to knit, dye and inscribe images and secure them in the open. Aside this, the business is usually done at a location, where buyers can easily access. And this is why it is usually done in traditional settings or communities, where buyers can easily identify the producers,” she said.
Explaining that there are two main traditional mats in the market, Salimota Ehito said the two types are made from the same materials, by the same people most times, but they do not have the same durability.
“There are two types of mats: one that is purposely designed to cover rooftops and the other for spreading on the floor for people to lay on for relaxation or religious activities or even for beautification, depending on what the user wants. These mats are made of the same material, but while the one for the rooftop is stronger and more expensive, the general one used at home are weaker, but more colourful.
“Hotels and resort homes come for the rooftop mats. They could be dyed to different colours depending on the taste of the buyer. Just like the local sleeping mats, the rooftop mats do not generate heat, as they tend to absorb heat, though they need to be fumigated once in a while so that they don’t become havens to rodents and insects. They could also be used to construct makeshift shade for picnickers at the beach,” she said.
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