It’s a simple idea: recycle plastic bags into design objects while helping women to create their job. “Les filles du facteur”, association created by the fashion designer Delphine Kohler, spreads out its colored bags and carpets in France and Burkina Faso.
How does one reconcile local craftsmanship and equitable trade, environmental issues and social combat for equality? Delphine Kohler found a solution. Since she discovered Africa, aged 25, the designer spreads manual know-how and reutilization of materials. Upon her return in 2000, she started by opening a store in Paris, rue Quincampoix, where she spotlights creative craftsmen from all around the world.
And one day, it’s love at first site for a handmade carpet straight from Brazil, made with a crochet needle from transformed plastic bags. Plastic may be fantastic but it is also a major source of pollution in the world, for the fauna and flora, in Africa and on the oceans. 75% of the garbage in the sea is made of plastic, according to the European community. In France, where 17 billion disposable plastic bags are distributed each year, the government has in fact adopted a decree that prohibits, since July 2016, disposable plastic bags at checkouts in supermarkets, and from January 1, 2017, plastic packaging on fruit and vegetables. Even though the trend is an awareness of the scourge, we are far from a shortage…
All the values of the stylist Delphine Kohler are materialized in this Brazilian carpet: it upcycles a polluting material, allows you to recycle it in a traditional manner whilst protecting the environment. Cherry on the bag, it’s also a social project that allows women to gain autonomy and diversify their income by working from home, with as sole tool a crochet needle, easy to find and very cheap.
In 2008, Delphine Kohler returns to Tiébélé, her adopted village in the south of Burkina Faso, to pass on her experience. The workshop takes shape rapidly which allows women to become true professionals of crochet. The “easiest job in the world”, assures Delphine Kohler.
“I work in an empirical way; I am very instinctive. I sat down with my crochet next to the women in the village and it took off! Curious, they came to see and that was it.”
Delphine Kohler, stylist
Relying on her stylist brand Facteur Céleste, Delphine Kohler created the association “Les filles du facteur”, that assists women in the village to manage their activity (administration, finances, sales, IT, etc.).
In 2009, the Recycsacplastic project from les Filles du facteur peaked the interest of the chain of stores Monoprix that placed a large first order. Other brands, including Yves Saint Laurent, also called upon the know-how of les Filles du facteur. In 2011, the integration workshop relocated to Ouagadougou. It counts today forty or so women who club together to benefit each morning from literacy classes in the Mooré language. And they buy their equipment with their margins.
The story unfolds in parallel in Paris and thus helps develop closer relationships between African women and refugee women: for eight years, les Filles de facteur have been taking action with migrant women, pursuing the same objective as in Burkina Faso.
“My role is to assist them, to make them capable of ‘doing’ on their own. My place is rather that of an artistic director finally, even though they also create models themselves. The association helps them with advertising to boost sales.”
Delphine Kohler, stylist
In France as in Burkina Faso, women handle the crochet needle and decide on the sale price of their work and are paid on a piecework basis.
Making a trash can can take up to a week! The work is creative, painstaking but very accessible. The bags are first cut into pieces to become a spool of thread, then crocheted according to techniques borrowed from wool.
You can find about fifteen collection points in Paris, identifiable by their large blue containers. Not all plastic bags are recyclable for crochet, they must be “thin, white or colored”. On the Burkinabe side, bags are bought from collectors, more often aged women who salvage and wash them.
“An 8-year-old child can learn; crochet is within anyone’s reach!”
Delphine Kohler, styliste
Still, the best for you is to test by yourself, you can take part in the Filles de facteur workshops organized every Friday at Grands Voisins (Paris, 14th) and once a month at La Petite Rockette (Paris, 11th).
If you are in Burkina Faso, go and visit Tiébélé, where it all started and where it continues!
For more information on Les filles du facteur