It all began in 1989 when Emily Readett-Bayley travelled to Bali sourcing props and costumes for a British Theatre company rehearsing on the island. Emily found the skills of the woodcarvers and weavers who made the masks and baskets so awe-inspiring, that when one of them asked if she was planning to return to work with them once the UK tour had finished, she knew the answer was yes!
Thirty years on we are still working on the island and one particular group of woodcarvers, who also grow rice on the terraces around Bali’s volcanoes, have been working with us since our first lettering commission in 1992. It was for a Latin motto carved from wood in an Old English printing font and was to decorate a Georgian staircase in London’s Queensgate. The letters were gilded and we called them POSH Graffiti.
Gilding a hand carved wooden word in Bali. POSH Graffiti is carefully shaped from wood and hand gilded with a gold metal leaf.
Since 1997, Emily Readett-Bayley Limited has exhibited at Trade Fairs in London, Paris, Milan, Frankfurt and Tokyo. Emily Readett-Bayley with her son Raj at an exhibition in London selling POSH Graffiti.
In 1994 the 4th International Bamboo Congress was held in Bali. Scientists, architects, designers and business people were there making the connection between bamboo, the people and the environment. Emily was there and it was a big learning curve for her. The 5th IBC was held in Costa Rica in 1998 and by this time we had added a range of bamboo accessories to the collection and Emily joined the congress on her way back from a homewares meeting at DKNY in New York who had seen our exhibition stand at Maison et Objet in Paris earlier in the year.
However, as the new millennium dawned, the trend for soundbites and lettering appeared on the interiors scene and Banksy turned graffiti into an art form so we registered the POSH Graffiti trademark and the typography took over. In 2008 when John Lewis noticed us and made the decision to stock the brand in store nationwide and online, Emily and her husband, Nyoman decided to move to Bali with their twin boys to supervise production. There were hundreds of craftspeople working with us and it was getting complicated.
Men and women of all ages are employed making POSH Graffiti in Bali. Emily Readett-Bayley with one of the highly skilled Balinese wood carvers her company works with.
By chance, their move coincided with the opening of a new school on the island and it was built of bamboo. It was called Green School and it was during a conversation about how her eight year olds were revelling in their new bamboo school that the subject of rainforest restoration came up. Emily was talking to the COO of the Katingan Project. The project was hoping to become the largest ecosystem restoration project in Indonesia, 200 000 hectares of lowland peat rainforest in central Kalimantan. Alongside the scientific research to determine how much carbon was stored in the layers of peat that had accumulated below the forest there was a need to develop regenerative farming and sustainable livelihood options for the ex-loggers and marginalised communities living there. So in 2012, Emily and Nyoman visited the area and subsequently, with the help of the Katingan Project’s local team and working directly with the indigenous Dayak people we made and shipped two containers full of baskets direct to the UK. The baskets were made from rattan vines which had been sustainably harvested from the forest and made in the village on the edge of the forest. The Indonesian shipping agents were so surprised we had asked to ship rattan baskets directly from the source, they double checked with our UK customs clearance agents that it was for real. Of course, the typical cargo was timber or palm oil.
Harrison Ford visited the basket makers when filming for the US climate change documentary, The Years of Living Dangerously in 2014 and in another strange coincidence the very same baskets appear in flames, on set, in one of the opening scenes of Star Wars, The Force Awakens which was filmed at Pinewood Studios.
Weaving rattan baskets for Emily Readett-Bayley Limited in Terantang village, Central Kalimantan. Harrison Ford visiting the basket weavers to see the baskets before they were shipped to the UK in 2014 and before they appeared on set in Star Wars, The Force Awakens.
Today the Katingan Mentaya Project is one of the largest rainforest restoration and fire prevention operations in the world but with recent scientific data relating to the health issues and carbon emissions caused by wood burning in the home, we have decided not to make any more log baskets. It is fortunate that the villagers in Terantang are currently busy as the price of raw rattan cane and NTFPs has now increased and they are also busy with agroforestry but we are in touch and plan to work on some new designs with them soon once travel restrictions within Indonesia are lifted.
Meanwhile we have set up “operation Planet Basket” to showcase and sell Heritage Crafts ethically made by artisans from other marginalised communities and we have been working with a small group of indigenous people know as the Batin Sembilan. They live in one of the last remaining areas of lowland rainforest in south Sumatra. It is called “Hutan Harapan, The Forest of Hope” and was the first Indonesian ecosystem restoration concession set up with support from the RSPB / Birdlife International. The RSPB have continued their research and wildlife conservation there and we hope that the traditional bushcraft of the indigenous rainforest communities will also play a part in conserving this vital oasis of biodiversity. It is their ancestral home but now completely surrounded by palm oil plantations and one of the most threatened areas of rainforest in the world.
A Batin Sembilan family at home in Sumatra with Emily and Fahrudin, the Hutan Harapan community liason. The Batin Sembilan are highly skilled in many types of bushcraft and weaving. To see more about the RSPB’s work in Hutan Harapan click here RSPB Rainforest Guardians
Over a million handmade letters later we are still working directly with artisans in marginalised farming communities in Indonesia but in March 2020 as the pandemic limited international travel, all the Balinese were dramatically affected as tourists suddenly stopped visiting the island. Many people had to leave the employment hot spots on the coast and move back to their rural family villages as hotels closed and work dried up. Our woodcarvers too were grateful when Nyoman left his home in the regional capital, Denpasar and braved disinfectant showers on his motorbike to reach the villages and order top up letters for alphabets. They didn’t believe him when he arrived with orders, for it seemed in the village, as many young people returned from the coast, that everything except farming had stopped, but, as you can see, we always try to go the extra mile.
Artisans finishing POSH Graffiti wooden letters with a view of their paddy fields in central Bali.