After spending a week in deepest rural Kasigau, Kenya working with 800 women who are desperate to scale up production of beautiful baskets that are now flying off the shelves in major North American retail outlets, it has become clear to me that we need to rethink current traditional retail business paradigms, and the financing models that support them, if we are serious about including more marginalized producers in the global economy.
Craft is the second largest employer in developing economies after agriculture with millions of people – mostly women - operating, most often informally, in this sector. Demand for handmade, authentic, well-designed products has never been stronger. Despite this the crafts sector is still not regarded as having serious business potential. Instead it continues to be seen predominantly as a charitable endeavor. As a result, it has not benefitted from the investment, supply chain and market access solutions now on offer for products like fair trade coffee. For more than fifteen years coffee growers have had access to technical assistance, loans, grants, forward contacting and leasing products which have resulted in a tremendous increase in production and not least quality -- all of which have yielded much higher returns to farmers and coffee growers globally. These interventions along with the fair trade movement itself have resulted in growing consumer confidence and willingness to pay substantial premiums for high quality fairly traded coffee. It has become cool to drink fair trade coffee, with no questions asked.
Artisans producing beautiful handmade products – like the wonderful 800 women in Kasigau - deserve the same opportunity. Given already fast growing demand, it is time to regard the crafts industry as both a business opportunity – one that not only offers a broader choice of high quality products, but also peace of mind and social purpose for consumers, and tremendous impact for the producers. For this to happen the fragmented value chain supporting the craft industry has to be fixed and the appropriate players in the sector properly aligned.
At Far & Wide Collective we like to think big and small at the same time. With your help we can both support small business growth on the ground in places like Kasigau but also contribute to fixing the overall supply chain that is holding progress, access to markets and prosperity back for so many people.