Handicrafts can decorate your home with their beauty, they can add a touch of glamor to your outfit with their ornate detailing, they can inspire trends with their natural splendor and ancient production methods, and they can change lives.
Change lives? This seems like a far stretch for just another product on a store shelf. But they aren’t just any other products – many handicrafts are the singular form of livelihood for artisans in some of the most impoverished regions of the world. These skills and age old methods are what allow a single mother to be a breadwinner for her family stuck in poverty, a child to support his or her siblings, or even a community to try to become sustainable. However, there are many hindrances these individuals face in their attempts to sustainably support their families and developing their communities.
To give perspective, on the kind of issues artisans face, we shall use a cooperative from Rajasthan as an example – Sadhna. Sadhna was founded in 1988 in an attempt to address one of the first issues artisans face – income generation. Sadhna is a women’s handicraft enterprise based in Udaipur, Rajasthan, which aims to provide a means of livelihood for women in rural, tribal and urban slums in the region. Starting with 15 women, the cooperative has grown to 649 women from 7 different villages. So what are some of the issues they face?
- Income generation: Artisans need opportunities to work, a market to sell in and a regular source of income.
- Receiving opportunities to develop their skills and be able to design based on fashion trends: In order to meet the markets demands of the mainstream market, artisans need to design products that are aligned with current fashion trends.
- Issues with infrastructure and facilities: Sometimes “basic” resources like medical facilities, insurance providers, pension plans and other governmental safety nets, educational facilities and artistic workshops are lacking in the regions artisans work in.
- Loans: Sometimes artisans lack the start-up funds to obtain the resources and materials needed to launch their business.
- Encouragement and community support: This is a problem that women often faced in stigmatized communities who don’t feel that women should be working outside of their familial obligations.
By working in a cooperative like Sadhna, these artisans have an opportunity to use their collective to reach a larger market and earn a more regular income. They receive regular training and business development support in order to cater to the mainstream market, many basic improvements to their quality of life, better facilities in their villages, emergency loans, and the encouragement to feel confident in their endeavours.
Yet it isn’t easy. As the proverb says, giving a man (or woman) a fish is easy but teaching him or her how to fish is a much harder. However, it is essential that these men and women be given the opportunity to become financially independent in order to help push their families and communities out of the poverty cycle. They face endless hurdles, but every purchase of a fair trade sourced product you make, helps these artisans come closer to their goals.