A BEACON OF HOPE
Named after the most notorious squatter settlement in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Project Two Mile is an initiative with a singular purpose – to economically and purposefully uplift the lives of marginalised women by providing a global platform for their artwork and crafts.
Starting in 2020 with small steps but big dreams, Australian based, PNG native Maggie T Kera began selling Bilum bags online via Etsy. The vibrant colours, bold patterns, and rich cultural heritage of the weaver’s work soon attracted an appreciative audience.
Launched as 'Bilums and Baskets', 2023 saw the project define its purpose of supporting urban weavers from informal settlements while continuing to work with women from remote areas in the Central Province, East Sepik Province, Western Province and across the Highlands. 'Project Two Mile' was born. From a collective of five women in the beginning, Project Two Mile now supports over 100 weavers and are committed to educating any woman who wants to learn the ancient craft while earning a fair and decent wage. We are in this for the long game. Every step we take is done with consideration as to how it will impact the lives of the weavers. We are non-negotiable about paying the weavers a premium for their work so that all involved in Project Two Mile can flourish.
The brand’s vision and exquisite woven goods has captured the attention of local and international clients. Their belief in the project and love of weaving resulted in bespoke orders being placed and more weavers engaged to fulfil the increasing demand. Maggie works tirelessly, liaising between clients, customers and weavers, to ensure that the highest level of craftsmanship is maintained, so that a secure future for the weavers can be assured.
While still in its formative years, Project Two Mile is steadily growing with the dream of creating a “creative space” in the suburbs surrounding the squatter settlements of Port Moresby. Ranked 160 out of 161 countries in the 2021 United Nations Gender Inequality Index, PNG women are some of the most disenfranchised people in the world. 37% of PNG’s people are living below the poverty line, with women and children being the most affected. This space is crucial for female weavers to be able to share ideas, earn an income, seek refuge, and build community.
The United Nations has reported that over two thirds of PNG women have experienced physical and/or sexual assault, a number more than double the global average. A woman's direct community and female kin-ship, are said to be more responsive in instances of violence than more formal reporting systems such as police, health care workers and NGO’s. The “creative space” aims to be a refuge of those in need, while fostering a community that can provide a bridge between victims and support services such as policies, courts, safe house, family support centres and NGO’s.
Our vision is to create a space that supports female weavers to live life to their full potential. Where they can earn a fair and decent wage and are safe from domestic and sexual violence. Where women and their children are supported to reach their full potential. Every Bilum bag sold helps us get a little bit closer to making this dream a reality.
LIFE IN A SQUATTER SETTLEMENT
Leaving their rural homes in search of a better life, many people and families find themselves in Port Moresby unable to afford the hugely inflated cost of life in the city. The squatter settlements are the only alternative for survival, where they find themselves unable to access basic needs such as running water, health care and education. Saftey is a major concern living in squatter settlements especially for women, who often are frequently the victims of physical, emotional and sexual violence.
Gender inequality is a critical issue in PNG. Gender based violence has reached epidemic levels, and women and girls continue to face barriers to accessing and expanding their skills, opportunities, and resources. By giving women an opportunity to find economic independence through their traditional craft, Project Two Mile aims to uplift not only the women’s lives, but to keep the ancient technique of weaving alive.
ANCIENT CRAFT FOR A MODERN WORLD
We have come a long way in a very short time, but there is still so much work to be done. Producing traditional crafts in adverse conditions for a luxury fashion market is not for the faint hearted! Quality of materials and finish are integral to keeping our customers coming back. We train all our weavers to work to the highest standards and have quality control checks along the entire process, supporting weavers with new skills that means we can compete in an international luxury audience.
We meticulously consider colours and textures guiding the weavers while letting them take creative ownership over the designs. Bilum patterns tell the stories of the women who weave them, passed down from generation to generation. While bilum weaving is steeped in tradition each weaver is free to create their own unique interpretation of the craft. We are always looking to inspire and discover new ways to integrate the ancient technique into the modern world.