26th October 1997


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Where flowers come alive

By Tharuka Dissanaike

Exquisite hand-done lace and embroidery work will be on display today. These are creations turned out by Andrea Boekel, especially targeted for the approaching Christmas season.

Andrea started her career as a teacher of hand work and embroidery, but has since expanded into an export venture employing 40 of her own students in a BOI approved project.

The factory situated in a distant hamlet close to Alawwa does not even have proper access. The ride there takes Andrea by car to a point from which they have to board a hand tractor to approach the factory building. Even electricity lines have not found their way through to the village. But when the delicately embroidered table cloths and cushion covers come to Colombo there is no evidence of the rural setting against which these are made. At her home in Nugegoda, the items are finished by machine and packed for shipping.

Andrea's efforts are aptly supported by her husband who is of Dutch-origin and their three daughters. It all began when Andrea taught embroidery and needlework to the girls in the hamlet, since her husband had interest in a coconut plantation nearby. "They were so talented," she recalls, "that when the classes were over I felt it was incomplete to just stop." Then the BOI agreed to make the project into an industry, and securing the initial capital with some difficulty, Andrea was well on her way. But there are times, she says when she can hardly find the money to meet her monthly overheads and ends up paying the girls out of her own pocket. But she remains optimistic that the market will pick up.

Andrea said that the Export Development Board was extremely helpful in promoting her wares in other countries. Her embroidered delights reach many parts of the world. North America, Middle East and France are some destinations. Cloth for embroidery and lace reels for her Brussels Lace creations are imported. Thus her products fit in at a high, exclusive range. Most creations are not repeated and the hand embroidery adds value to the product . Andrea explains, "it lasts much longer and can withstand repeated washing."

Her creations are mostly done on linen and cotton materials which are in vogue in the West. In addition to what she had already turned out for export, on display will be some items created especially for the occasion. "I have used more colour on the products manufactured to local tastes." She explained that in the West white on white embroidery is fashionable.

In all imaginable pastel hues, painstakingly stitched flowers come alive against the starchy white backgrounds. Colours are also available. All designs and colour schemes are decided by Andrea herself. On exhibition today, at no. 5, Balapokuna Place, Kirulapone will be a range of products including blouses, nightdresses, little girl dresses, table cloths, bed sheets and pillow cases, table runners, napkins and cushion covers, all at specially discounted rates.

Shopping is good for you

Whoever said money can't buy happiness didn't know where to shop a sentiment close to the heart of every fashion professional.

That shopping is a pleasurable activity bringing comfort to women the world over sounds like common sense. But it's only relatively recently that academics have begun to take this at face value and explore the individual experiences of shoppers.

Researchers on both sides of the Atlantic are approaching the study of shopping with a new sympathy. Out goes cold analysis with its emphasis on number-crunching and marketing jargon. In comes a new "people-friendly" tack, with academics trying to understand consumers as individuals.

Helen Woodruffe, lecturer in consumer behaviour at Britain's Lancaster University, spends her time interviewing "real" women about their shopping habits. Her long-term goal is a national study of comfort shopping that phenomenon where women go out to buy a new outfit after a bad day at work or a dispute with their husbands or just when they're feeling down.

"Shopping can be a very positive force in women's lives, and it's important we recognize that," she says. "Whenever I lecture on the subject and ask if anyone has shopped to make themselves feel better, virtually every woman in the audience puts her hand up."

Woodruffe should know. She began her research in 1993 after years of indulging herself in both comfort shopping and comfort eating. "I still do comfort shop. Let's face it, life wouldn't be worth living without it."

Her biggest ambition? To write a case study on the Duchess of York, who once memorably described herself as "the impulse buyer incarnate." ''Fergie would be fascinating," Woodruffe says. "She's a textbook case."

Woodruffe claims a key element of comfort shopping is spending more than you ought to. "It's a bigger thrill when you can't really afford to buy something the thrill of forbidden fruit.''

Academics make a distinction between the majority of women, who recognize comfort shopping as a regular or occasional emotional need in their lives and a minority who are seriously addicted. "It's like the difference between enjoying the occasional chocolate bar and binge eating," Woodruffe notes.

The modern view is that shopping addiction is symptomatic of deeper problems. The buzz of buying may provide temporary relief from depression, although it is followed by feelings of guilt and regret.

There is also a physical thrill to shopping. As many as 45 percent of shopping addicts interviewed by researchers at Oxford University's School of Management Studies admitted that they were unhappy with the sex side of their personal lives, compared with 14 percent of "normal'' shoppers.

This research confirms what popular novelists such as Judith Krantz have been writing since the '80s that shopping and sex are inextricably linked with the former serving as a substitute for the latter. IHT

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