Ireka Jelani has woven a magical web of success – she runs ‘Roots and Grasses,’ one of the most successful baskets and wicker stores in Barbados.
She uses Khus Khus grass, or Vetiver as it is more widely known, Rock Balsam, Pandanus, Cabbage Palm, Wild Cane, and Bread and Cheese vine, all of which are grown here in Barbados, to produce unique handbags, jewelry, baskets, tableware, hats and more.
“I use the natural resources around us to make arts and crafts. I try to mainly promote the use of Khus Khus grass as it is abundant here in Barbados.”
Ireka and her husband live in St Andrew and practice the Rastafarian religion which teaches you to live off the land sustainably, that is financially viable. Their basket weaving business allows them to accomplish this.
Ireka sells her woven products from her thriving shop – building number 3 in the famous Pelican Village, and her products are used by luxury homeowners, interior decorators, leading hotels and tourists for both decorative and functional purposes.
One of her first loyal customers was Miriam Kovez who ordered 100 baskets at a time for her fruit basket business in the early ’80s.
Ireka has been a Rastafarian since she was 15 and learned basket weaving skills from her mother.
“True Rasta is about being self-reliant where you develop your natural resources and way of life sustainably to create financial viability.”
She married her first love – Prince Pine, and they live in the lush, green parish of St Andrew, where they can source the materials they use to produce their products.
“St Andrew, where we live, is full of green, luscious, fruitful land which produces all the raw materials we need for our business, and we have assistants who help us with the gathering and distilling of the raw materials that we use.”
Ireka went to St Patrick’s Roman Catholic School and excelled at art, sculpture, and crafts.
“At school, I used to do a lot of craft and sculpture. My art is an extension of the ideas in Barbadian folk law – the idea of using the plants and nature from Barbados’ natural gullies.”
Ireka went on to achieve a certificate in Gender Studies at the University of the West Indies and, following this, completed an associate degree in art at the Barbados Community College, which helped her develop her design and creative skills.
Ireka and her husband have had five beautiful children – Baruti, Hillaby, Subira, Kwaku and Nassoma who have all become successful in their fields and help run the family business as much as they can.
Kwaku is also studying a music degree at Barbados Community College.
Sadly four years ago Nassoma, their eldest who was studying social work at the University of the West Indies, passed away.
Following this tragedy, however, Ireka used her strength and understanding to turn her pain into something positive and achieved 1st class honors Bachelors of Finance degree at Barbados community college, which she studied from 2008 – 2011.
“I used the pursuit of my degree as a form of healing, and turned the grief and catastrophe into something positive and new – as a coping mechanism.”
Ireka’s deep understanding of life and nature gave her insight that should be inspiring to us all.
Now that Ireka has achieved her degree she is using the knowledge she learned of observing and distilling plant forms to enhance and improve her product lines; for instance, her handbags, placemats, and jewelry.
“Right now we are working to develop new product lines with more artistic flair.”
Her current product lines draw on a whole range of materials for wholesale and retail, and she also makes bespoke products to match people’s specifications.
Ireka’s advice to up and coming Barbadian craftsman is:
“You have to have a love for it – keep experimenting and developing your product lines, while ensuring you are constantly in your marketplace.”
Brett Callaghan is the founder and managing director of Totally Barbados. I specialize in writing content for the tourism industry for my island home of Barbados. I help companies build strategies to grow their businesses online with SMART marketing, advertising, and social media goals.