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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 August 2005, 22:41 GMT 23:41 UK
Poland revives wicker tradition
By Adam Easton
BBC News in Rudnik-on-San in Poland

Poland, the European Union's biggest newcomer, is often portrayed in the international media as a predominately rural country where the main form of transport is the horse and cart.

Rudnick's mayor Waldemar Grochowski shows off the town's wicker plants.
Rudnick's mayor sees a chance to weave prosperity from wicker

It is an image that often irritates people here. But in the small southern Polish town of Rudnik-on-San traditional skills are seen as the key to its success.

The town and its surrounding area are the biggest wicker-producing centre in Europe. Poland is the biggest wicker producer and exporter in the European Union and the fourth largest in the world.

Of the town's 6,900 inhabitants, more than half make their living from wicker. "In recent years the industry has been growing and unemployment has fallen from 22% to 19%," says Waldemar Grochowski, Rudnick's mayor.

Growing demand

Wicker has always grown wild in the poor soil along the river San. But it was not utilized until 1870 when an Austrian count, Ferdinand Hompesch, sent a group of villagers to Vienna to learn the wicker trade.

At the time Rudnik was part of the Austrian-controlled province of Galicia. The town showed its appreciation by erecting a bust of the count in its main square.

Between World War I and II, about 10,000 people in the area worked in the wicker industry. In the 1960's there were 496 hectares of wicker plantations in the area.

Wicker hat modelled by a woman from Rudnick on San, Poland
All kinds of wicker items are increasingly popular

But the transition from Communism to a democratic, market-driven society after 1989 were difficult ones for the wicker industry. Both of Rudnik's two main wicker plants, Jednosc and Wikplast, closed down.

In recent years, demand for traditionally-styled wicker products has been rising, especially in Western Europe where the craft of using wicker has declined.

So Rudnik's people are returning to wicker. There are now 10 large firms and around 100 smaller ones.

One of the biggest is Delta, which manufactured the wicker housing for Poland's exhibit at EXPO 2005 in Nagoi, Japan.

The 13-year old firm specialises in garden furniture and baskets. But it also produces odder items like wicker coffins, for which there is growing demand in the UK for eco-friendly burials.

EU boost

Delta exports all of its produce, mostly to the UK, Germany, France, and Scandinavia. Its sales are worth 3 million zloty-a-year ($875,000; 508,342)

Stanislawa Baran weaving wicker
Stanislawa Baran makes a living from wicker weaving

The company has grown in recent years and was given a boost by Poland's accession to the EU.

"Our task is easier now because the exporting procedures are easier. Selling our products is easier for various reasons, such as the fact there is no customs on the border now," Delta's export director Mariusz Lachowicz said.

This year, wicker plantation owners began receiving European Union subsidies.

Poland's main competitor in the wicker industry is China. But Polish wicker has advantages, says Mr Lachowicz.

"Our products are better quality. Our wicker is slightly different too. And we're quicker because we're closer to the market and we can respond quickly to new trends," he said.

Delta employs around 400 workers in the area. Most of them work from home.

Tough work

Firstly the wicker is stripped of its tough outer bark on a machine. Then it is soaked in water for two hours to make it workable.

Franciszek and Stanislawa Baran buy their own wicker and work between 10 and 16 hours a day sitting in a small, spartan basement.

"Afterwards everything aches, my back and my hands. I sometimes wake up at night because my hands are aching," says Stanislawa.

The whole family can make five baskets a day, earning 200 zlotys ($58).

It takes at least three years to learn the basic skills, says Stanislawa. Their parents taught them. Now, they've passed on the knowledge to their children.

"We try to encourage our children but we don't know if they'll carry it on, but we wanted them to know how to do it," she says.

Rudnik has plans to create a wicker promotion centre with the aid of state and EU funds.

It also hosts a summer wicker festival every year. One of the more popular events is the wicker fashion show. Last year's collection included wicker hats, skirts and even conical bras. But it's not clear the trend for wicker underwear will catch on.

Poland fears EU brain drain
03 Feb 04 |  Business

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