Gone Rural

Gone Rural started organically in the 1970s and was officially registered in 1992. The organisations founder, the late Jenny Thorne, co-founded a series of shops across Swaziland which sold local crafts. Through these, she saw an opportunity to use handcraft as a means to empower the women of Swaziland.

Until recently, Swazi women had very few rights and were forced to rely on men to support them – not even allowed to own a piece of land in their own name. But up in the mountains, where the indigenous lutindzi grass grows wild, Jenny saw women weaving and saw an opportunity to help them use these skills to secure a sustainable, independent income with which to support themselves and their families.

Today, Gone Rural works with more than 750 artisans in 13 groups across Swaziland – from young women to gogos (grandmothers) and often with three generations of women from one family. By providing their women with selfemployed, home-based work, they empower them with a sustainable income, while still allowing them to fulfill their traditional duties and provide care to dependents.
What once was a small start up organisation has now a global reach, and makes a big impact on hundreds of families - and thousands of individuals. Their range is still to this day based primarily on grass weaving. An entire product line has been created; of baskets, place mats, runners, decorations, fruit bowls, and even jewellery - all completely hand made in Swaziland. They are bought and sold globally, with big markets in Europe, Australia, and the USA.
Gone Rural's mission can be summed up as: preserving the past, understanding the present and pioneering the future. Today, they supply woven products to hundreds of retailers around the globe, allowing them to quadruple artisan incomes in the last few years. They also invest (at least) 30% of annual profits into their community development organisation Gone Rural boMake.
Gone Rural boMake (meaning 'women') complements income generation work with empowerment programmes, including sponsoring school fees, drilling boreholes and providing mobile clinics. To date they have provided clean water to over 11,000 people and, in a country with the highest density of HIV in the world, a remarkable 95% of our women know their HIV status (nearly three times the national average.)
They also have peer educators working in every community and are governed by an Artisan Board (made up of the 13 group leaders). They set the prices and they discuss and debate the future of Gone Rural – truly empowering their women to lead the way.

Gone Rural's first outlet was built on Malandela's Farm (where they are still based today) by Peter Thorne, husband of founder Jenny. Today, that shop has grown into a unique cultural centre, celebrating the creativity and connections that Swaziland has to offer.

This includes the awe-inspiring events venue House on Fire, built by Jenny and Pete's oldest sons, Jiggs and Sholto; the offices of travel adventure company All Out Africa, co-founded by their younger son Roland; and the Malandela's farmhouse pub and restaurant, run by their daughter Nandi.

For more information about Gone Rural, to view their products, and to access their online shop, please click here.

An ebook now exists telling the full Gone Rural Story. To view it online, click here.