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Artisan Communities: the beauty of handmade

Handmade work is something that is becoming increasingly rare. Nowadays, machines can produce thousands of standardized pieces per day that can then be sold on the market. For this reason, the work of artisans needs to be valued more, because it requires more time, more experience and more craftsmanship. I would like to share with you some examples of artisans from different parts of the world, who often come from difficult backgrounds and have decided to create a community where they can be productive and express their creativity through handicraft work.

Matr Boomie

When two people meet, great things can happen. Manish Gupta and Ruchi Agrawal met a few years ago and were surprised at how much they had in common. They were both touched by the extreme poverty of the country and the terrible working conditions, but at the same time they were aware of the deep culture and potential of rural Indians, so they decided to do something to change the situation and that's how Matr Boomie was born. They started the journey in India by working with local organizations to turn unskilled women and men into artisans. One of the principles Ruchi and Manish want to promote is that the materials and processes used to make them are safe for people and gentle on the earth. A team was created in India to produce high quality products and has grown day by day until it has become a true fair trade company, innovating in ethical and sustainable business.

We may wonder what "Matr Boomie" means? In Sanskrit, an ancient language of India, matr means "mother" while boomie means "land". So taken together, matr boomie means motherland. This term refers not only to the land where we were born, but also to all the people and places that have shaped our character: The uniqueness of each person is the fundamental principle of Matr Boomie and what they want to promote with their company. Their goal is to bring people and cultures closer together, to eliminate differences and celebrate their uniqueness, because we all belong to one MotherLand. The Matr Boomie community consists of both women and men. As we know, India is a very patriarchal society where women are still considered inferior. So the aim of Matr Boomie is to give women a chance to build their own financial independence. They also want to include minorities, because in India, low caste people still do not have financial opportunities, and the community trains them to participate in trade. The community wants to offer wages that are 20-30% higher than the traditional market in order to fight poverty, which is still a strong feature of Indian society. They try to include marginalized artisans as much as possible and offer them the opportunity to participate in workshops that increase their productivity. Matr Boomie is also very concerned about the environment. For this reason, they strive to use reusable packaging whenever possible and try to use compostable or recycled materials to make their products. Their efforts to be environmentally friendly also include reducing the amount of water used in manufacturing. They have installed a water filtration system that allows them to save 1 million gallons of water each year. They also prefer to ship by cargo ship to reduce their carbon footprint. As for plastic, the company has found a creative way to replace plastic bags: It uses upcycled saris (typical Indian women's dresses) to package its products. In this way, they reduce the use of plastic bags and also recycle fabric scraps that would otherwise end up in landfills.


Mayan Hands

Mayan Hands is a non-profit fair trade organization founded in the early 1990s, by two native Guatemalans, Fredy and Brenda Rosenbaum. Brenda conducted numerous investigations in Mayan communities in Guatemala and Mexico, through which she learned about the harsh working conditions and talent of the Mayans, as well as the effects of the discrimination and marginalization they have suffered for centuries. When the Mayan Hands project was launched, civil war was still raging in Guatemala and many Mayan communities were experiencing severe devastation and loss. Mayan Hands was launched with the goal of opening markets for Mayan textiles. Mayan weavers, especially women, are known worldwide for their weaving skills and beautiful textiles. The goal of Mayan Hands is to connect these artisans with markets that are willing to pay a fair wage for their work, so that the women have the opportunity to earn an income and support their families. The organization adheres to the principles of fair trade and is one of the funders of the Fair Trade Federation. Some of the shared principles relate to creating opportunities for economically and socially marginalized producers, developing transparent and accountable relationships, building capacity, and supporting safe and empowering working conditions.

Today, Mayan Hands works with 14 cooperatives and about 200 women living in different parts of Guatemala. They started out making textiles, but now they have expanded to work with other materials and make different products, such as felted wool items, baskets made from pine needles, and jewelry. Mayan Hands works primarily with women, as they have fewer opportunities to get jobs and support their families economically. Because of Guatemala's cultural heritage, women have been discriminated against simply because of their gender. For a long time, Mayan girls could not go to school, which limited their knowledge and ability to speak Spanish and the other official languages of Guatemala. One of the requirements for working with Mayan Hands is that the women must be part of a group. The company believes that working in groups is better than working with individuals because this way wages are distributed fairly among all members and they can actively participate in the decision-making process about their work. Group members share their skills, encourage and support each other.

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This next example comes from the East, Laos to be precise. TaiBaan, formerly called Saoban, was established by a Lao non-governmental organization as a fair trade enterprise that works with village artisans to preserve and promote traditional handicrafts, create employment opportunities for villagers, and reduce poverty. In the Lao language, TaiBaan means "community of villages" and the idea is to give traditional artisans the opportunity to promote their work not only in Laos but around the world. TaiBaan is a member of the World Fair Trade Organization and supports the principles of fair trade to ensure that artisans receive fair value for their work and have good working conditions. TaiBaan currently works with 15 village craft groups and has more than 250 women artisans in ten provinces of Laos. The company also aims to preserve the country's cultural heritage. Handicraft products are one of the characteristics that shape the tradition of Laos, but the pressures of modern life and the ability to purchase cheaper factory products have discouraged many artisans from continuing their craft. For this reason, TaiBaan aims to pool the resources of talented artisans and help them transition from subsistence production to sustainable living. The artisans are also encouraged to pass on their skills and craft to the next generation. TaiBaan supports women in rural communities and encourages the formation of groups where women can build their businesses and strengthen local communities and economies. Women artisans are able to choose their working hours so that they can balance both business work and family life. TaiBaan strictly opposes child labor, and all women involved in the business are required to have their children vaccinated and attend school. The company also encourages artisans to pass on their skills and crafts to the next generation in order to preserve tradition.


Indego Africa

Indego Africa is an association founded in 2007 to promote the creation, growth and sustainability of businesses run by African women. They provide artisans with a global market for their handmade work and invest 100% of their profits in their education. Education is key, according to Indego Africa. For this reason, they provide women and young people in Africa with the education they need to start their careers and create and sustain independent lives. They prefer handmade products and work with many artisans in Ghana and Rwanda to create collections of crafts that bring beauty to the world through modern design, ancient techniques and craftsmanship. They also place a lot of emphasis on local materials. It is important to them to preserve traditional crafts by using natural fibers that are already available in the communities where they work. The association buys materials from local suppliers and strives to be as environmentally friendly as possible in the production of all their objects. They prefer to use natural fibers found in the country such as sweet grass, palm or banana leaves, organic yarn and they use local plants, flowers or plant materials for dyeing. Indego Africa supports time-honored techniques: Each of their pieces is handmade using ancient, ancestral techniques: Bast weaving, woodcarving, hand embroidery and wool spinning are just a few examples. They work with artisans to promote their talent and introduce the world to the stories of these traditional African artists.

Indego Africa places great emphasis on environmental protection. They strive to reduce waste in their production processes by using recycled materials and fabric scraps, and they organize large cargo ships from Africa to the US to reduce their carbon footprint.

These few examples show that people living in difficult conditions in poor countries have been able to build a community of artisans whose skills produce incredible handcrafted items that are unique not only because they are handmade, but also because they represent and transmit the culture of these countries. These products are the result of the work of local people, especially women and children, who want to combine creativity and tradition. What they create has a unique value and cannot be reproduced by any machine.

Written by Valeria Unich

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