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A review of the profitability of the Ilalla Basket weavers

The research into the Ilalla Palm basket weaving by Kevin Mansfield and Dr Myles Mander of the Institute of Natural Resources, found the following interesting facts:

  1. The weaving is mostly by women, but men have been known to be very good weavers.
  2. In the areas where the weaving takes place, much of the raw materials have been depleted and needs to be bought in. This purchasing takes place at the monthly cattle sale markets in Zululand.
  3. The preparation of the Ilalla Palm fronds includes: Cleaning, stripping into weavable strips, preparing to dye (Soaking in rusty iron) and then the dying, using roots, leaves or bark. This preparation can take about a week, depending on how many colours to be used in the basket.
  4. Each weaver uses their own cash to visit the market, paying taxi fees and purchasing: Ilalla Palm fronds, coil grass and dying material – roots, bark and leaves.
  5. To produce an Ilalla grain basket of 20cm high x 20cm girth.

Material Costs.

Ilalla leaves   –   R1.20.

Core grass   –   R1.00.

Dying materials   –   R0.40.

Time costs.

Process of Ilalla   –   R1.54.

Processing of core   –   R4.00.

Dying of Ilalla   –   R8.00.

Total cost of materials   –   R 16.14.

Production costs.

Weaving time 83.78 hours.

Cost of labour   –   R4.13 / hour at an average working day of 5.5 hours at R500

per month.

Cost of weaving   –   R346.01.

Total cost of production R363.15. (This does not include any mark  –  up)

Weavers are, however typically paid less than these real production costs.


A few interesting facts we learned during this process:

  1. The finer the coils, the more detail in the basket. It is this fineness that like in a Persian carpet dictates the quality.
  2. In a basket with half the coil thickness, it does not take twice as long, but it is exponential and can take up to 8 or more times as long to weave. It also takes more Ilalla palm, but less core grass, which is much cheaper.
  3. The best quality baskets also tend to have more colours and thus more preparation and dying.
  4. The agents that come to the area to buy the baskets have a standard set of cardboard templates to measure the girth of the baskets, with a standard price. Whether the basket has coils of 12mm or 6mm, they get paid a standard price.
  5. The better quality baskets are exported to the collectable curio (artifact) market and are sold at a significant premium. The balance is sold in souvenir (travel mementos) shops and concessions locally.
  6. The result is that the lion’s share of the mark-up is in the wholesale and retail of these baskets. The weavers earn the least amount. If they happen to have the skills and talent to weave fine baskets, it more often than not means their work is less profitable as they take much more time in its production.