Considered by REAL

Celebrating International Women's Day- Cathy's Story from Local Markets to International Trade Shows

Maddy Pease

“My region is known for its beautiful weaving and woven baskets, but our community has faced many challenges. With only local markets available, the community started doing less and less weaving, to the point that this traditional skill had almost stopped being passed down to the next generation.

But I believe that the craft industry in this country is a sleeping giant, and thanks to working with REAL Impact, I have been able to tell the community that their handicraft has value – we just need to get into overseas markets, and if we do, this will bring many benefits back
into the community.” Cathy Wariapa

Cathy Wariapa not only has talent as a weaver, but she is also a leader in her community providing women and men with the opportunity to sell their weaving products in international markets. Globally, the artisan market is the second largest employer in emerging economies, behind agriculture, with an estimated market size of US$38 billion. Artisans are significant contributors to the world’s high-end fashion, textile and homeware industries. Papua New Guinean artisans from Ialibu District have had little opportunity to contribute to this global industry until now. Their products that were once only showcased at local markets are now being promoted at international trade shows such as 2019 NY NOW.   Recently held in New York, the promotion of Cathy and her community’s products resulted in several orders and enquiries from leading US homeware companies.

Cathy is central to this success, bringing her local community together to produce world-class products. From developing her business, Cwakama Arts and Crafts with REAL Impact, Cathy is now creating real income-generating opportunities for her district. Selling to a large overseas market allows Cathy to increase her income as the local domestic markets where she was previously selling her products were unpredictable and were only frequented by a small number of tourists and other Southern Highlanders.

“The Ialibu community is producing a range of product for orders placed through my business by REAL Impact, which is providing a regular income for the community. This is exciting, but there have been many challenges along the way. Instead of working individually to sell products, the villages have had to come together and work to their strengths. For example, some villages are better at raw material gathering and preparation, while others are better at weaving. I worked with the community leaders to pick the best weavers from the region because the weaving needs to be high quality, and we have to have some standard designs. Along the way we have learned that some weavers are better than others, so we now have a buddy system so the better weavers can train the other weaver. 

We have collaborated with Australian designer Darcy Clarke to help us design high-end products that appeal to the international customers such as our lights
and stool.” Cathy Wariapa

It has been a monumental effort by Cathy, her community and REAL Impact to make this transition from local markets to international trade shows.

A decisive turning point was when Cathy received a zero-interest loan from KIVA – a first ever for a Papua New Guinean.  Within 14 hours over 700 investors and groups on the crowdfunding platform invested in Cathy with the capital going towards the development of new products. Supporting them along the way has been Pacific RISE an Australian Government funded initiative – which provided funding for REAL Impact to undertake scoping missions – and Pacific Trade Invest, Australia who facilitated the loan deals with KIVA and REAL Impact.

“The people in Ialibu community are proud people, and what we have been doing has restored that pride and belief, because they know what they are creating has value to others
and their community.” Cathy Wariapa