Caroline Sherman founded Among Equals in 2015 with an aim to empower Papua New Guinea's most economically-disadvantaged women. Paying the weavers a premium for their bilum and building a strong global platform for the product would in turn provide more stable incomes for the weavers and their communities.
Among Equals is committed to preserving the creative practice of bilum weaving for future generations. The women who weave the bilum are the key decision makers in choosing their working hours, place of work and setting the price of their bilum. Each bIlum serves a multifunctional and practical purpose, as well as having great cultural significance.
Among Equals developed its mission through listening and talking with the weavers themselves. They supported the idea of making the traditional bilum a part of the contemporary world of slow and ethical fashion. The women who weave the bilum are proud to bring their stories, woven into bilum to a global audience who may not have encountered bilum before. A greater demand will mean the craft is not lost to future generations.
Bilum weaving is an ancient practice steeped in history and culture. Every Bilum tells a story, each design symbolises an important element of the weaver's daily life: be it family, fertility or animals; for instance, if you marry, your mother will weave you a diamond pattern, and when you own your own piece of land you will receive a mountain design. Every bag embodies a special storytelling tradition that is woven into the fabric, and each weaver crafts her own signature pattern.
To tell the story of the amazing resilient, generous and joyful women who weave the bilum Sherman took photographer Hannah Scott-Stevenson, a longtime collaborator whose work appears in VOGUE Australia and Harper’s BAZAAR to Papa New Guinea. The brand’s creative team sat with the women, recorded their stories, their dreams and hopes for the future, while Scott-Stevenson lensed a series of illuminating portraits that speaks to the strength of the weavers. These images celebrate the 2000 weavers who now work with Among Equals sharing their stories through bilum.