This coil style of basket weaving has been practiced in Senegal for generations. Traditionally, Wolof women created baskets by binding stalks of cattail grass, a thick local grass, with long strips of reed. Though reed strips could be harvested locally, they were very hard on the hands of the weavers. About 20 years ago, an idea revolutionized Wolof basket weaving. A factory in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, creates mats using plastic strips that strongly resemble the reed strips. Using the plastic strips to replace the sharp natural material, conditions for the weavers drastically improved and the baskets began to burst into vibrant colors.
Since 2008, Swahili has worked with a group of talented Wolof weavers in remote Senegal to design hampers and baskets woven from the salvaged plastic strips and cattail stalks. First introduced by the Peace Corps, Swahili and more than 120 Wolof women prove that cooperative, home-based craft export is an excellent way for rural women to earn fair trade incomes that build healthy communities.