"Sahalandy’s work has completely changed everything for us and for our families."Sahalandy is a women’s social enterprise based in Sandrandahy, in eastern Madagascar. Sahalandy represents ‘silkies,’ hand-weavers of silk. With 95 members and over 1800 participants, Sahalandy is committed to sustaining Madagascar’s cultural heritage, conserving the environment, and ensuring a sustainable livelihood for its contributors.
Sahalandy’s artists produce scarves, shawls, and throws of raw silk. The sustainably collected cocoons of endemic moths eventually become luminous, rippling weavings that have grown popular around the world. As beautiful today as they were centuries ago, Madagascar’s silk weavings represent an enduring element of the island nation’s identity. Today, silk-weavers in Madagascar are considered to be “the culture-bearers.”
Income from the sales of Sahalandy textiles pays school fees for children in eastern Madagascar. For many, it has built or improved homes, funded hospital visits and medicine, and provided regular, nutritious meals. About 85% of members' children are now in private school because of Sahalandy's consistent sales, explains Berthe Lalao Olga Razafinandriana, the organization’s president.
People in and around Sandrandahy learned weaving from their grandparents and their parents, and silk textiles have provided a consistent income for as long as community members can remember. Many artists still use the looms and spindles their grandparents owned. Traditionally, raw silk in Madagascar is used for burial shrouds, for exhumation ceremonies, and as gifts for royalty, and most wear everyday silk scarves to stay warm and healthy.
Raw silk—or ‘peace-silk’—from Madagascar is considered to be cruelty-free, because the worm is not harmed in the silk-making process. The silk of one scarf touches 10 pairs of hands as cocoons are collected and silk is spun, dyed, and woven. Artists use predominantly plant and vegetable dyes, although some custom orders require synthetic hues.
The process of weaving silk by hand is time-consuming and complex. First, cocoons are collected by the kilo via bush taxis. The cocoons are beaten against trees to remove thorns in the thread, and then the tiny pods are washed, cooked, buried with rice hulls for a week, and washed again. From there, the cocoons are dried, stomped on, and beaten against trees once more. Finally, the silk is ready to be spun, using a traditional drop-spindle.
Organic dyes sustain the threads, and then the strands are stretched tightly and sun-dried. Colors are selected, spooled out, and measured; each thread is counted to ensure that patterns weave evenly. A month—at least— has usually passed by the time a scarf is woven, finished with tassels and embroidery, washed one last time, and presented to its wearer.
These days, the most popular designs remain the most traditional, though artists embrace the challenge of a unique custom order. Each color used has a meaning, and silk, when revealed occasionally in its natural state, shimmers softly gold. Sahalandy members host trainings for each other on dyeing techniques and color patterns so as to better suit the diverse requests of a global customer base.
The artists of Sahalandy are committed to honoring tradition while fostering innovation; the results are distinctive, rugged, and timeless textiles. With participants joining each month, Sahalandy’s artists are indeed the culture-bearers, for they live by the silk.
A Malagasy proverb that illustrates SAHALANDY weavers, weavings, and community work is, “one silk strand is strong, but when many are woven together, they are stronger.”