A six hour drive up dirt mountain roads leads to a village of scattered huts with thatched roof hats. I’m close to the line between East and West Timor where civil war has divided the lush jungle of green, searching for old textiles for which these parts are known – ikats and indigo and tamarind red – elegant and intricate weaves.
What I find instead, is a dancing, drumming congo line of women flowing out of an open-air studio where they weave and spin and dye together in the old ways. They snake their way over to the first brick house of their village – one which their weaving income built. Children appear beside me whose brothers and sisters have gone off to college on the earnings of their mother’s skill.
This is the moment i can point to now. The one that changed me. The drums, the children’s faces, the women’s confident hands.
I had started illoominata because I love the beauty of cloth – the old gorgeous relics of a hand-made era. But here surrounding me are women dancing in the street who still carry all the knowledge of that cloth in them and the stories and the skill – and I want to belong to them. Not just to the old stories. I want, with them, to write new ones.
It takes a year for a woman to make the skirt she is wearing. In order to create a livlihood out of that, she must sell her cloth for $300 instead of the $30 trinket she might throw together for a tourist. But in that $300 piece of cloth is all of her inheritance, her mother language, her local trees in the dye, her imagination and skill and heart in the doing of it.
In that piece of cloth is her daughter’s future, her college education, the house she will build for her family, her self-respect and strength, her chance to lead her village.
I decided in that moment to find a market of women in the west who so love the soul and heart of the handmade that they will pay for the poetry in it, so that women like these can keep singing with the shuttle and grow strong doing it.
ibu is my response to this promise I made. I began to design women's garments that utilize rare and dying skills from many cultures. And who elevate the women who carry those skills in their cultural bones.
ibu is a name for the women in Timor, rising into self-sufficiency. It means a woman of respect.
It is also a name for women wearing these garments, belonging to this story, rising above the commonplace to imbue their lives with the original, the creative hand, the daring of global glamour.
And that’s you.
You are the rest of the ibu story.