The Guyana Project is made up of 11 young designers. As a group, we are united by an interest in sustainable materials and ethical working environments. Inspired to learn firsthand how our concepts become products, we traveled to Georgetown, Guyana in May of 2009 to work in the Liana Cane Factory, which uses only non-timber rainforest products (NTRP) and is run by local activist and entrepreneur Jocelyn Dow. This same factory welcomed designer William Gordon, whose experience in social entrepreneurship was featured on Core77 in December of 2008. Our trip was organized by Pratt Institute’s Rebecca Welz, a design instructor and artist, and designer Patty Johnson, of the North South Project.
In Guyana we met and collaborated with factory workers and indigenous artisan weavers from the Wai Wai tribe. For over 8 hours each day we steamed, bent, cut, sanded and wove alongside the men and women of Liana Cane. At each step of the way, our designs were also shaped by the material constraints and constant direction of the skilled workers, whose knowledge of this process greatly surpassed our own.
“You have to take pride in your work and know good measurement,” said Shawn Singh, who has been working at the factory since it opened in 1993. “The hardest part about the work is finishing. First you have to rough sand, then another sand with another grain of sandpaper, then you apply sand sealer, maybe twice, and then you sand again with a finer grain of sand paper. And then finally, you apply the lacquer.”