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Q&A: Leila Walters on slow traditional handcrafted textile

by | Oct 2, 2020

Leila Walters is crafting what she calls intentional textiles, dedicated to the slow and handmade. Her brand, Crosspolynations was developed as a platform for creative exploration in 2018 after a sojourn to India during which all her research and ideas she had formulated about textiles, craft and sustainable practice synergised. “In our realm, art is not separate from life. We believe that functional objects should be beautiful and that our everyday should be filled with objects which both inspire and uplift our spirits and each other,” Leila says.

This site, originally developed as a platform to share research on traditional handcrafted textile traditions, has grown into a brand which encompasses the creative production that this research inspired.

“Our hope is to create a space of celebration of slow and skilled craftsmanship, material culture, sustainable production, community empowerment and low-harm lifestyles. We hope that this space grows to become a resource for inspiration, collaboration, education, reflection and connection,” says Leila.

What do you do at Crosspolynations?

When I began the brand it served as a receptacle for research as well as ideologies conceived through conversations around handcrafted textiles and sustainability. Over the years however,  it has developed from quite a philosophical space into the brand for my creative studio, using the philosophies explored in the early days to inform a physical and material practice. The essence is about intentionally handcrafted textiles, with a focus on natural fibres and ancient techniques. The studio is currently in its early stages as a weaving studio, producing functional art textiles. I am working on a collaboration with another wonderful local, conscious brand and a collection of functional art textiles for the home. Starting out, is a slow process, but I’m working towards a model which focuses on self motivated projects as well as commissions and collaborations with aligned clients. Eventually I’d love to expand the studio to be able to share craft knowledge, particularly with people I could work alongside.

Why the name Crosspolynations?

When I came up with the name I was literally in another nation. While learning as much as I could by interacting with as many people as possible, the name came about because the brand is primarily about the interchange of information and skills between people and the value of cross-cultural network building.

What is your favourite textile to work with and why?

I am a little obsessed with all textiles! My primary interest is fully handwoven cloth and natural fibres. I’m really enjoying mohair at the moment which is a very special national treasure that so few people really know about.

Do you think South Africa will ever be able to stop importing textiles?

In this global world, I don’t think that stopping imports is entirely possible or even necessarily desirable. Cultures have always traded with each other, across tribe, kingdom, nation border and sea. I think it’s more important that this trade is done on a value of credit rather than just for the lowest price. I think it would be amazing if we could bolster our local textile sector – we have the infrastructure, the raw materials and the knowledge but not the market support. So many of our mills are closing down and the knowledge is being lost. As long as we are consuming so many textiles it would be great to see a bigger share coming from domestic industry and the dream would be that if we rebuild locally it can be done in a more sustainable or at least ecologically considerate manner. I think the onus for this lies quite heavily in market demand, without the market there is no motivation or even support for industry to make any changes.

Top three slow, sustainable brands you’re loving right now?

Desha.co.za is just my absolute favourite local yoga props company expanding into conscious living products and they are rigorous with securing ethical supply chains. Love them! I’m a huge fan of the umthunzifarmingcommunity and all that they do. And then, maybe not very fashion forward but Freestyle shoes are simply the best, they last forever and I love wearing shoes that say “Made in SA”, especially when travelling.

Where does the inspiration for your designs come from?

The sun. I am never more inspired than after spending time in nature, especially with a bit of sunshine. After that, I’m really inspired by traditional artistic practices, so weaving and other craft traditions from all over the world, with a particular shout-out to the strip weaving traditions of West Africa.

Slow living advice?

Be intentional with your actions, your words and particularly your purchases. The things we fill our lives with should serve us and our communities, not the other way around.

 

  • For more information, visit Crossploynations’ website here.
  • Credits: Feature images and images 1 and 2 photographed by Chelsea Pickering
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