Textile expert Andrée Etheve is using her knowledge of wild silk to help protect Madagascar's largest mangrove, found in Betsiboka Protected Area.
The mangrove's Avicennia marina trees are being threatened by human degradation, but the silk chain—from the cocoon to the finished fabric—offers an income-generating activity that incentivizes the health of the mangrove instead of destroying it.
Since 2010, Etheve, through her organization Association Femmes Entrepreneurs Environnementales Mahajanga, has been working with women's cooperatives to reforest Betsiboka, helping to ensure that silk production remains a viable livelihood for local people.
My main work is to weave and dye and work with natural fibers and natural colors. Because of that, I work with women in protected areas to preserve natural fibers and colors.
I was born in Madagascar in a family from Reunion island. I grew up here in Majunga. When I was a child, my dream was to become an explorer.
The way to become textile expert is a long, long way. First, I trained in art school. I was a painter and drawer. Once, I went to Lyon, which is an important city of silk in France, and I found that silk was a marvellous marterial.
So, I spent several years in Lyon, to learn and learn, with a marvellous teacher. He was the best weaver in France for silk, gold and silver.
Together we wove a lot of fabric, handmade for Paris haute couture, including Christian Lacroix, Yves Saint Laurent, Ungaro and Lanvin. I learned a lot of old secrets with my master Georges Mattelon.
When there was no more work because of the crisis in haute couture (which for me coincided with a family crisis), I decided to come back to live in Madagascar.
I never “visit” places in nature. I try to be there only to work with people. I love to be on the marvelous river Betsiboka, which looks like gold water.
The Betsiboka estuary is a unique place in the world; I would say almost sacred. Of majestic beauty, immense, fierce and pure, imbued with rites and legends, where man can feel the power of nature but its fragility, too.
Plant and plant again each day and, through every contact with women who live in critical spots, to develop in their mind the necessity to be very careful about conservation.
Having known how to preserve and develop the conservation of certain knowledge in the craft sector, and to collaborate with several organizations such as UNESCO. Being invited to other countries to present the knowledge of Madagascar and to enrich the knowledge of other countries.
There is something very rewarding about conservation work, to see how much the women in the field are involved in what is happening.
What is exhausting is the search for grants for small groups like ours.
I would start the work to preserve the environment much earlier because I now realize how much time we have wasted while things badly deteriorated.
Some replies have been translated from French.