An Importer’s Perspective
As a kid growing up in India, our parents would take us to tourist destinations during the summer break. I remember seeing a lot of gift shops selling artisanal goods to tourists at these places. Those goods were unique since we never saw them in our local daily markets. They also seemed to be reasonably priced. My impression, seeing those artisanal goods being sold plentifully, was that the artisans were getting good business.
When I started working with artisan groups closely, I learned that my earlier notion of artisans having a lot of work could not be further from the truth. Most artisans we work with share their concerns about not having enough work. Also, the prices they can fetch for their crafts through domestic traders are too low to be sustainable. This has lead me to the realization that artisan-made goods don’t automatically equate to healthy returns for the producers who made them.
The biggest reason why artisans are vulnerable is because they frequently have to face the decision of having no business or selling at a unsustainable price. Before, their crafts were a part of their everyday life but now they are only novelties being sold in tourist shops. To give you an idea, sometimes our Fair Trade purchase price for volume quantity (direct from artisans) is higher than the retail price found at these tourist shops. It’s something that has taken me some time to be OK with.
I now see artisan-made goods in many big box stores at prices so low that I am sure it is not sustainable for artisans. Here’s the big questions: As consumers, should we support that? For the artisans, is selling their goods at low prices better than no business at all?
My sense is clear no for the following reasons:
- Unsustainable wages start to push artisans into a cycle of poverty.
- Artificially low prices in a few stores has the potential to lower the market pricing for that entire craft which is extremely damaging.
- The effects above start to impact an artisan's motivation and pride in their art, which inherently puts the art on its death bed.
For me, artisanal goods made sustainably are more than a piece of art. A happy artisan puts soul into each piece they create. Pieces made by artisans that are struggling and demotivated are devoid of that soul. To me they are only artisanal looking and not really “artisan made.”
Manish Gupta, Co-Founder, MATR BOOMIE
As the writer of this blog series, I want to express my gratitude to our audience for taking the time to go deeper with me into Fair Trade and for sharing your appreciation. I would like to hear more from you about what specific areas you would like me to discuss in future. I also welcome dialog around these pieces through Facebook, Twitter, blog comments or even email (email@example.com). Our different perspectives make us stronger. All one All Kin.