Meet the Artisan: Barrydale Hand Weavers

Barrydale Hand Weavers was born of a conscious desire to slow down and take a uniquely considered approach to craftmanship. They're concerned not only with the preservation of an ancient process that results in beautiful products, but also in the empowerment, employment and skills development of their team. We conducted a short interview with them to catch a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their brand, what their journey has been so far and where they're headed. 

Image via, Instagram , barrydale_hand_weavers. 

Can you tell us a little about the history of your brand? How did it get started, and what motivated you to create it? 

The Barrydale Hand Weavers story started in the late 1980’s in Swaziland. A German Master Weaver called Rudi moved there to teach weaving in a small mission. The first person he taught was Tivane and in time the two of them trained many others. Carol Morris was also in Swaziland at that time and was designing fabrics, she & Tivane worked on a number of projects together. In 2007 Rudi sadly passed away and in the same year Tivane and Carol moved to Barrydale and Barrydale hand weavers was formed. So from humble beginnings the 2 people, became 6, became 12 and then 18 as the business grew organically and as Carol & Tivane trained more weavers within the village. Come 2019 ,Carol was looking for someone else to take over the management of the business as it had grown beyond her expectations. At that stage I, (Arran) had just moved to South Africa with my family. I have now managed the business for 4 years. We now number 30 employees and Tivane is still our Master Weaver, there isn’t a day that goes by when he is not weaving! I don’t think he could or would every stop! Ultimately it is Tivane’s passion and desire to weave that Barrydale Hand Weavers was born from and that passion is shared now amongst our full team.

What inspires your brand and your designs? Are there any particular influences or themes that you draw upon in your work?

Our brand is inspired by nature, we use locally sourced unbleached cotton which is almost as “raw” as you can buy it. Most of our product designs are dominated by this unbleached natural colour, there’s something beautiful about keeping it that simple. We are always looking to our Klein Karoo mountains and fynbos for inspiration. The most beautiful things are found in the undisturbed places on our planet where our great Mother Earth thrives!  


Image via, instagram , barrydale_hand_weavers. 

What are some of the challenges you've faced as a local South African brand, and how have you overcome them?

I’m not sure what specific South African challenges we have faced. Clearly the 2020’s have been tough economically but that has been a global impact. I suppose the biggest challenge is creating awareness of our brand and what we are all about. We believe in open and honest communication, we believe that most consumers want transparency so they can make informed decisions when they purchase. We look to build this trust by sharing our “behind the scenes” process and highlighting our great creative people that are making the products by hand.   

Can you tell us about some of the materials and techniques you use in your designs? How do you choose the materials you work with?

Our raw material is natural unbleached cotton yarn and we only buy it from South African textile mills; either Prilla Mills in Pietermaritzburg, Kwa-Zulu Natal or Standerton Mills in Standerton, Mpumalanga. Around 50% of the raw cotton that the mills use comes from South African cotton farms, the rest from local countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, etc.  We are committed to local sourcing for everything we need. We work with several dye houses in Cape Town to dye our cotton to specific colours. Our products are handwoven using a 300 year old weaving technique that involves a flying shuttle and a floor loom. It is a fully manual process.


Image via Instagram, barrydale_hand_weavers. 

 How do you approach sustainability and ethical practices in your brand? Are there any initiatives or practices you've implemented to reduce your environmental impact? 

We have already spoken about sourcing our raw materials from within South Africa, we believe in supporting the local business and farms as this builds a nationwide sustainable supply chain. We also believe that by not importing products we are reducing the environmental impact of international shipping and transporting of raw materials. We use minimal energy in our weaving process as it is all by hand save for a few electric bobbin winders. During the pre-shrinking and quality control process we use electricity for geysers, washing machines, tumble dryers, irons & sewing machines. The geysers are boosted by solar panels on the roof to harness the Sun. We are working towards a solar powered electricity solution later this year, the main issue is the initial capital cost, so we are saving hard! We use no chemicals in our pre-shrinking process just hot (65 degree) water. All water is recovered in our on site dam and then used for watering the garden. Regarding ethics, one of our key values is to employ locally from within our village of Barrydale. We are paying a living wage rather than a minimum wage. We have also been developing a benefits package for our employees, it currently includes life / critical illness insurance and funeral cover and we are adding an Employer contributed pension in the next month or so. We support community upliftment projects as part of our corporate social responsibility programme, with the main aim of improving the lives of the youngest and most vulnerable in Barrydale. Currently we are raising funds and support to build a skatepark in the poorest area of our community. This project was started in 2020 and we hope to have 30% of the park built within this year. The kids currently skate every Saturday morning on the netball court, it’s an amazing experience to be there and see the joy and focus that skating brings.

Can you share any behind-the-scenes stories or anecdotes about your brand or your products?

Last year we wove 1,600 metres of strip weave fabric for a major Hollywood movie called The Woman King and starring Viola Davis. We had a day out at the movies (an 90 minute drive away!) with all our employees and it was amazing to see our hand woven products turned into authentic 1820s costumes.

Image via Instagram, barrydale_hand_weavers

What do you hope customers will experience or feel when they interact with your brand and products?

We want them to enjoy the comfort and luxury of handwoven cotton products. We take visitors on tours of our weavery, in this instance we want them to understand our process and learn the importance and beauty of weaving.

How do you see your brand evolving in the future? Are there any new projects or collaborations in the works?

Our brand will continue to evolve and grow organically. We mostly sell to stockist within South Africa so we are working on building our export market. We will be releasing some new products in the next month or so. It is an outdoor range including a picnic blanket, mindfulness rug and outdoor cushions. We are always waiting for that next collaboration or the next movie project! We don’t have anything ongoing at the moment but a few months ago we made 300 towels for a bath house in Melbourne, Australia, that was a great highlight.

Finally, Can you share with us some of your favourite products or collections that you have created, and why they are special to you?

I would share the BHW Baby Kids Hooded Towels. We invited all the weavers kids and our own to the river in the Tradouw Pass, a few kms outside Barrydale. It was such a fun photoshoot. These Kids Hooded Towels have been a big favourite amongst our customers, the only complaint we get is that we don’t have them in adult sizes so we are working on the now!


Image via Instagram , barrydale_hand_weavers 

Rock Paper Scissors is so proud of what this local brand is doing and we love having their beautiful products in the shop. you can shop some of Barrydale's handwoven summer towels and kitchen towels online right here or if you'd like to come see the quality of these handmade goods in person then please come visit us in the shop!

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