We live in an age of unprecedented ecological and social challenges.
It’s by now clear that rethinking the way we manufacture and consume products we need in our everyday lives can help address some of these challenges.
We believe that traditional knowledge can provide a blueprint for a sustainable future i.e we can adapt and translate this knowledge to realize goals of sustainability, eco-consciousness and social justice.
At Monkey Mind, we go back to our roots in Sri Lankan culture to adapt centuries-old manufacturing know-how to create products for a modern sustainable lifestyle.
We make everything by hand with natural, renewable or upcycled materials using primarily traditional equipment. In addition to being functional and useful, we strive to make our products beautiful, cozy, durable and effortlessly ergonomic.
At the same time, we aim to make our products accessible to everyone because we know our efforts are meaningless unless more of us can participate in a sustainable lifestyle.
Our inspiration comes from the incredibly talented Sri Lankan weavers, loomers, and artisans that we work with closely and learn so much from. Working with them has only strengthened our conviction that those of us living in more “developed” countries are not necessarily more advanced but rather, that we still have so much to learn from others. We invite you on that journey with us.
– Nali & Rudy
Nalika Gajaweera, PhD
Born in Virginia Beach, but raised in Sri Lanka by my mother, grandmothers and sisters, I experienced firsthand a lifestyle that is gentler and more attuned to the environment. Today, I practice anthropology at the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture, where travel, research and teaching keep my eyes wide open to the stories and histories of different cultures, learning how communities adapt and wrestle with a globalizing world.
As a cultural anthropologist I understand that for humans to live a life that is more sustainable to the environment and equitable for more people, we must pay attention to the knowledge, innovations, and practices that emerge from a holistic approach to culture. Most indigenous cultures and communities that remain in touch with their artisanal histories understand that the things they make are not separate from their spirituality, food, health, or the political and economic systems that arise from these everyday practices. For instance, growing up in Sri Lanka coconuts are not just sweet sweet hydration, but their husks, leaves, trunk, flesh and sweet liqueur make their way as tools and accessories in our kitchen, gardens, the food, medicine, and our hair.
Monkey Mind is my attempt to keep the folk knowledge of Sri Lankan culture alive by collaborating and innovating together with local artisans and creative entrepreneurs who share our values and vision.
Anuradha “Rudy” Edirisinghe
I was born in the old Dutch colonial town of Galle in the southern coast of Sri Lanka and raised in the highland city of Kandy. Growing up in Kandy easily lends itself to cultural immersion as the city has been a major cultural and artistic center since the middle ages or earlier. I grew up there at a time of significant cultural and social change in Sri Lanka; the traditional ways of the older generations rapidly giving way to a recognizably modern consumer culture.
My generation was profoundly influenced by the 30-year civil war in Sri Lanka. Social upheavals of that time led many young people to make unorthodox life choices. In my case, it took the form of an interest in social activism and nonprofit work very early on, which culminated in my forming a nonprofit technology startup dedicated to developing networking software that helped nonprofits collaborate better.
Drawing from my own life experiences, I am deeply concerned about the rapid disappearance of traditional modes of life. This is both from the perspectives of the people living these lives and for the profound cultural loss that it entails for us all. I think older cultures have valuable lessons to teach us in our efforts to live more sustainably and equitably. I feel that for traditional ways to be conserved effectively, they need to be translated and recontextualized to suit the needs of our times. In that sense, the modern conscious consumer may be our best advocate. This is what that Monkey Mind project is really all about.
Women’s empowerment: Majority of our weavers and artisans are women, often from female-headed households. We don’t employ factories or assembly lines; our artisans either work from home or in fairtrade cottage workshops, close to where they live. This allows them flexibility to earn an income while taking care of their families. In comparison, most alternative forms of employment for Sri Lankan women often involve them having to leave the country (to the middle east as domestic workers for example) or work in factories in major urban centers.
Eco-friendly manufacturing: Our manufacturing processes such as handloom weaving employ traditional equipment such as wooden fabric looms that have an extremely low carbon footprint. We use recycled/upcycled materials or 100% natural raw materials such as cotton or agave yarn and other plant materials.
Cultural preservation: The global importance of Sri Lankan weaving traditions was recently recognized by UNESCO when it included one type of Sri Lankan traditional weaving - Dumbara Ratā Kalāla - in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. However, due to the growth of commercial manufacturing this knowledge is in danger of being lost to future generations. By enabling surviving traditional artisans to be gainfully employed we help sustain, strengthen and preserve these traditions among the traditional artisans communities.
We don’t employ factories or assembly lines: work is done at small fairtrade cottage workshops or at the homes of our artisans.
Earth-friendly & sustainable manufacturing: we use low carbon footprint equipment such as wooden looms.
Natural and upcycled raw materials: we primarily use cotton, agave and other plant materials.
Handmade: most everything we do is hand-dyed, handwoven and hand-embroidered in small batches.
Fairtrade work: our artisans are fairly paid and work in safe working conditions, often at home. They are able to earn an income while having the time to take care of their families.