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Artisan Organization: Simone Buys

Country: Central America

Simone builds upon her many years assisting artisans in the more remote corners of the world. She is experienced in the tastes and needs of European, American and Japanese consumers, and she combines this expertise with her knowledge of the potentials and limitations of different weaving media and techniques (cloth and basketry), batik art, embroidery and silversmith in developing countries.

An artist in her own right, Simone at various times provides designs, suggests design modifications and inspires artisans to stretch their own creative potentials. Born in Belgium and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Simone worked in the administration sector of Belgium, which allowed her to follow her painting career. However, wishing to lead what she calls "a more generous life," Simone returned to Africa.

Simone first saw the positive impact of the marketing assistance she was able to provide in a small community in eastern Kenya. In 1995, she worked with a local woman artisan and leader to develop a thriving enterprise. They exported unique woven sisal and banana fiber baskets, which in turn provided employment to more than 500 women. Simone witnessed how they became empowered, better able to defend their rights and take active, leading roles in their communities by adapting their skills to create products that were commercially viable in the international market, thus making a steady income.

After Kenya, Simone worked as a consultant in South Africa, Ethiopia and Morocco. She is now enthralled by the fabrics, jewelry and the cultures of East Asia, where she settled in 2004.

Simone is based in what is known as the crossroads of trade between the Golden Triangle countries of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. She is working with Hmong hill tribe people on batik and embroidery projects. She also supports other artisans and community-based weaving enterprises with product development and marketing. Her role in these projects is an active one – not only does she consult, but sometimes she joins in the design and crafting of a piece.

"I wish to honor handcrafting skills, which are fast disappearing due to the predominance of commercialism," Simone tells us. "Today my main concern is to praise the hands and lives of artisans who continue to offer vital dimensions to our lives; a fair price recognizes their expertise, and could maintain consistent work for the artisans' young followers.""

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