The highly regarded Mapula Embroidery Project is one of the most important community art projects in South Africa, assisting the over 200 participating women develop artistic skills and creating income to feed and educate their children and improve their lives. The Winterveld, where the women live and create, is situated 70 kilometers northwest of Tshwane (Pretoria). It has a complex and troubled history because of political, social, economic and gender forces that have left the area under-developed and many residents unemployed, poor, and vulnerable. Their struggles and triumphs have been reflected in many of their embroideries over the years.

The project was initiated by the Pretoria Club of Soroptimist International and is now administered through the Mapula Embroidery Trust, a registered non-profit organization in South Africa. One of the founders, Janetje van der Merwe, has been a key volunteer from the beginning and continues to bring her passion and considerable energy to the project. Trust members are all volunteers and consist of embroiderers and professionals including lawyers and accountants.

In the past 30+ years, the embroiderers (now approximately 150) have developed an intricate system involving design, production, and development of artistic and business skills. In addition to sales of the embroideries, the project is also supported by donations that help purchase equipment such as sewing machines and assist families of the project members. The Sisters of Mercy who live and run an education and skills training center in the Winterveld, provide the embroiderers with the use of a classroom/workspace free of charge and have been involved with the project from the beginning.

We were extremely fortunate to be traveling with the American quilt artist Nancy Crow and a group of fiber artists when we visited southern Africa in 2019 and had the rare opportunity to visit the Mapula group at Sisters of Mercy in the Winterveld. We fell in love with the project, and when we started BuddhaBee Collection in 2020 we saw an opportunity to make their wonderful work readily available in the U.S.A.

BuddhaBee Collection purchases work directly from the Mapula Embroidery Project. The prices of the pieces are determined by the collective based on several factors including the complexity and quality of the work. The emphasis is on ensuring that each embroiderer is paid as much as possible for each piece they produce and so additional costs are kept to a minimum. Part of the Mapula value proposition includes empowerment of the Members of the Mapula Embroidery collective by introducing them to new skills and giving them opportunities to broaden their horizon such as museum visits and participation in collaborative projects. Each embroiderer is paid for their work as it sells (you may have noticed the name tags pinned or stitched to the pieces). A percentage of the sale price goes to the cost of materials such as fabric and embroidery cottons, overhead, and to support group projects such as an educational fund, transport to clinics for women who needs to collect medication on a monthly basis, and Christmas food parcels.

BuddhaBee Collection pays Mapula their set wholesale price just as do retailers in South Africa. We mark up the price to cover shipping, currency exchange fees, advertising and overhead, and profit. We have had questions about whether the items are “fair trade.” Except for the Mapula Embroidery Project, BuddhaBee Collection does not trade in imported goods or in fair trade commodity markets. Just as we do with artists in the United States, and is the practice with art galleries and dealers, we pay the artist their asking wholesale price and mark up accordingly. We are not experts in international trade, but we feel that dealing directly with the artists, or in this case with their collective, is fair to the artists and to our customers.

We hope you love the work as much as we do and will consider bringing it into your home or giving as special gifts. All the work we list on the site has been purchased by BuddhaBee Collection and is available for immediate shipment from Tennessee.

For Mapula stories visit https://mapulaembroideries.co.za/blog/
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