Leana Buchanan makes a living from 'khus khus' grass
HARMONY HALL, St Mary - For many people, 'khus khus grass' or, 'bang grass' as it is commonly known, is nothing but a plant which grows wild by the side of the road, with no real significance. Not so though for 39-year-old Leana Buchanan a resident of Harmony Hall near Highgate in St Mary.
For Buchanan, khus khus grass or vetivert (the botanical name) has been her primary income earner as she uses it to make various items including footwear, handbags, hats, belts and other accessories.
"I've been doing this for like 15 years now," Buchanan told the Jamaica Observer North East, pointing to a few of the items including the adult and baby 'Clarks' which is a favourite among her customers.
"A lot of foreigners come and buy. Some of them I make to order, sometimes I just make so if people pass through and see them and like it they can buy," she said, adding that her products were favoured especially by English visitors.
The mother of five biological children and a stepchild, Buchanan told the Observer North East that she became involved in the handcraft after seeing her children's father, Wilbert Brooks, use the grass to make different products.
She explained how she watched Brooks, sometimes secretly, as she realised that what he was doing was a good craft and soon she was able to begin making some small items of her own.
"He didn't really teach me, I just watch him and say to myself, "okay, a so him do it"and I just start doing it on my own and I realised that I was getting good at it so I just take it up full time," explained Buchanan, who said she has always been good at embroidery and crochet.
Soon after, Buchanan was able to develop a brand she now calls Gold Straw Brand and said she hopes to, very soon, hit the international market with especially the footwear and handbags.
"A lot of things can be made from it. You can make furniture, basically anything you want, but I love the fashion," she said, adding that sometimes she has to travel to other parishes in search of the wild grass. Some products, such as a pair of shoes, Buchanan said, takes up to three days to be completed.
The financial gains from the products have not been encouraging but Buchanan said she enjoys the skill and the fascination people have with the items.
Buchanan explained further that she sells a pair of adult shoes, the one she refers to as the 'Clarks' for $4,000 and the baby ones for $2,500. One of the handbags, she said, is sold for about $2,500, depending on the size and style, while the hats range between $1,500 to $2,500.
"Everything that you see right here is hand-made," Buchanan said of her products. "It's not really profitable, but it's just the talent and the medals and certificates I have received for them."
Buchanan has entered her handcrafts in numerous competitions including the National Craft Assessment for Senior Citizens where she has won medals and certificates of excellence and merits.
"It makes me feel good, it's always good to be rewarded," she said.
Buchanan is desperate to hit the international market, but financing has been her greatest challenge. She also wants to get her small business registered so it can be promoted through the Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO).
However, she often only makes enough to help meet the financial demands of her household. As such, Buchanan said she wants to become a part of a group where support, especially to market her goods, is given to persons like herself.
"I want to go as far as possible. I want my products to be available as far as possible; I want to see my products in the stores. I want to see people wearing them (and) I want to see them on the international market," Buchanan said.
At present, she operates from her residence at Harmony Hall, but Buchanan said she plans on expanding her small business and eventually open a store.