Madagascar: adding value for the people and the planet

At Phemke we place great value in environmentally and socially durable entrepreneurship. It is very important to us that our products are made in a way that is not damaging our earth and is socially beneficial for the country or region where the products are made. Even more so, it is our purpose to show you the beauty of artisan made products with respect to our planet and our people.

One of the beautiful places where most of our products are made is Madagascar. Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world and is home to the raffia palm from which raffia fibre is harvested. The local artisans make the most beautiful products from these raffia fibres and we’ve asked them a few questions about the process involved and how environmentally and socially durable the production is.

Madagascar is the leader in raffia production. The whole process takes place on the island. “All the value is added here, so we create more jobs and the country receives more tax money. The artisans that make products for Phemke source the raffia straw from a village called Mahajanga (located in the western part of Madagascar). The raffia is transported to the nearest village on foot. “The artisans have to walk with the harvested raffia for 48 hours to reach the village. There are no trucks involved in this process.”

Some of our products are made from dyed raffia, to add some colour to the collection. “We use natural dye and some chemical dyes for colouring the straws. Natural dyes are made from roots and leaves, we mostly use the sisal roots without killing the plant itself. The chemical dyes that are used have been tested and certified to make sure that they are not harmful to the body. Both the chemical dye and the roots for the natural dye are purchased from local small companies and small vendors.

When we ask the artisans about waste and water usage they tell us: "To make one medium tote bag around 1kg of raffia is needed, around 200 grams will be wasted. For an undyed tote you need around 3-5 litres of water, for a dyed tote it takes around 10 litres. The water used is taken from wells. When the water doesn’t contain any dye we can re-use it to water plants and crops. When there is dye in the water, it will be thrown away in a basin. An undyed tote will take around 3-6 months to decompose when left in nature, a dyed tote will take up to 9 months to fully biodegrade.” The artisans and local companies are still working on reducing their footprint, for example, they are planning to install a filter in the waste basin to allow any waste water to be purified and re-used for watering crops.

The harvesting of raffia straws and the production of raffia products brings great social opportunities for Madagascar. Did you know that for an order of 150 bags, an average of 60 artisans will work on this order? Producing one medium sized hat or bag will take an artisan around 6-8 hours. “The artisans work from home and take care of their families and sometimes run a small farming business on the side”. The artisans usually gain their skill through the older generations, the technique is passed on. The latest trends and new techniques are taught through training.

The artisans get great opportunities by producing and selling the raffia products: “some artisans benefit from scholarships for their children, and the wage they earn provides them with food, clothing and housing. Many of the children, boys and girls, are interested in also learning the techniques and becoming an artisan, because they’re seeing their parents’ lives change for the better and they want the same.”

When we ask them how we could support the artisans even more, they tell us: “We are constantly training our artisans, by investing money we could use this to develop new technology for dying with less CFC emission, filters for our waste water, and grow the company in general. The bigger the company, the more artisans can get a job. The money would also be used to keep training our artisans.”


Feel good, look good, do good! Browse through our Made in Madagascar collection for more information about our Malagasy treasures. Click here!


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