Our Mali pottery is handmade near Pondicherry in India as part of a fair trade project. The project was established in 1985 to provide training and secure employment for men and women both able bodied and disabled, from disadvantaged backgrounds. The scheme now employs 40 people and focuses particularly on empowering women in the work place.
All the artisans involved in the scheme are offered three years training, the first year is dedicated to basic skills and they earn a fixed monthly salary to help ensure stability. The scheme has had a direct impact on the living standards of the artisans involved, many of whom had limited opportunities and basic living standards when they started. The regular employment means that they have enough funds to make improvements such as installing electricity and running water in their homes as well as making a few small luxury purchases such as televisions, and bicycles to help with transport to work.
The process of making the Mali pottery is long, and consists of various stages. The artisans work with five different types of clay which come from mines in Rajasthan. This is the last area in India where this raw material is available.
Preparing the clay
The first step consists of mixing the clay with water in a tank which is then stirred for two hours. The mixture then goes to a sieve which removes dust, and ensures the clay is clear before it goes into the second tank. After one week, the clay is then transferred into other tanks, where it stays for a further 48 hours. The weather has a huge impact at this stage. If it rains it means the clay does not dry and the whole process is affected.
Throwing the pottery
A master craftsman or woman then carries out the throwing of the piece, and gives the shape to the diffuser. One craftsman is able to make around 75 pieces per day. The diffuser has to be accurate and precise, as all the diffusers have to be the same. It is at this point that the handles are added to each mug and any additional details are made. Once the pottery is shaped we enter the drying process. This is done outside, for a further two days, weather is again an important factor and can delay the process.
Firing in the kiln
Finally, the piece is fired in a kiln, handmade from bricks. The oven is heated by wood, bought from local farmers. The pieces remain in the oven for 8 hours and then are left to cool for two days. The finished pieces are then carefully packaged and shipped to Nkuku in the UK, just in time for a cup of tea or coffee.
There is something magical about holding a mug in your hand knowing the story about the person who made it and the journey the piece has taken.