I am still jet-lagging from a recent trip to NYC where my businesspartner Chit Juan and myself attended the NY Now Artisan resource trade show. ECHOstore showcased the textile-based products of our GREAT women indigenous groups. The purpose was to get our feet wet–carrying products with a strong cultural context into the international market. We had rolls of inabel textiles, and other textile products made by our tribes women, painstakingly woven and dyed using vegetable dyes. As a curator and culture advocate, and now representing the small indigenous weaver, the correct marketing direction of the product internationally is just as important as its cultural preservation.
We were screened before being accepted to join. Aside from our products, the organizers needed to know our stories of sustainability and women support. And when we were accepted, the whole process was completed when we got grant help from the Peace and Equity Foundation.
“The outsider is the insider”. I picked up this phrase from the talk given by Keith Reker, a trend forecaster who spoke about creating intentional communities through products. He shared that that which is deepest within us has the most interesting and impact full meaning when we bring it outside.
The NY Now Artisan Resource may be a new trade show now on its second year, but it is obviously a concerted movement against the norm. The need to support artisan hand-made products becomes imperative in a globalized homogenous world. The factory “Made in china” labor label has affected the world economy. And I believe there is some form of a backlash happening. Even buyers are jaded, forced to attend too many trade show with sleek products all looking the same. There is now an unprecedented demand for the unique, the limited, the handmade and artisan products everywhere, with conscious consumers looking at the stories of people’s lives and social impact behind the products they buy, aside from the quality and beauty of the products.
From a marketing perspective, it offers an alternative from the already saturated market full of cheap factory-produced products that are made with no thought of fair labor practices, sustainability for the environment or transparency. From a philosophical perspective, it is about returning the spirit of craft and art, celebrating cultures, and highlighting unique and beautiful imperfections produced by the hand that bears the consciousness of the maker.
The intentional community that the NY Artisan Resource is creating brings together conscious buyers, artisans from many parts of the world, seasoned buyers from top department stores and brands sharing their insights during break away talks and one-on-ones in the booths. The NY Now Artisan Resource is trying to bring back the conscious supply chain of product creation and development, merchandizing, developmental processes of teaching exportation and mentorship of designs for market penetration. Community participation is vital in each product, of allowing the process to be shown in the design and product, of allowing homespun impurities to be shown, for the artisan’s touch to the seen, for the woman’s name and story to be highlighted.
Our booth included a textile collection from a mix of four southern tribes, bags and accessories and rolls of textiles. There was a medley of textile products as we were not too sure of what would click with the buyers. What luck that one of the mentors, an international textile designer and expert Kartika Audinet was brought to our booth by the organizers. She promptly started to mentor us, openly sharing. In a jiffy, she helped us refocus our booth display and answered my personal nagging question on the product design direction I was going to bring the ECHOsi Foundation’s next level development work with our indigenous weavers. In less than an hour, Karthika brought out the most unique pieces we had and told us to focus on these. And a part of me squirmed inside as I knew what the textiles she zeroed in were certainly the hardest and most challenging to keep producing. The tribe she chose had weavers scattered around, whose challenges include lack of raw materials and production capacities.
Through out the fair, Chit and I constantly remarked how nice the energy of the trade fair was. There was sharing, even transparency at costs. Buyers were first asking questions, not on the price, but on the source, material and story. They were willing to start slow and grow and develop products with us. The show was colored by ethics, of values and ideals, even as everyone was trying to sell with the intention of taking those orders in so we can keep artisans’ livelihood ongoing.