Photo: RM, Arial Playas, Pink Fish Alebrije
Let’s test out a theory – if buying from locals assists local economic development, then buying from local artisans, crafts people, makers of whatever bolsters the culture, creates new pathways. Shopping has great entertainment value and tourists love souvenirs, the reminders of a place where you are not.
On the downside, not all crafts sold are produced by or benefit local artisans. Nor is production always sustainable, no matter what the label says.
For travelers, educate yourself before you arrive. The Web is a great way to learn about a country’s traditions.
Figure out your own limits. Are you most comfortable in a gift store or in an artist workshop? Some programs are criticized as ‘hardship tours’ because of the amount of walking involved and rustic accommodations. If that’s not for you, stay in the city.
Other travelers are disappointed if they don’t see every step in the artistic process. Plan ahead!
Travelers often spend months if not years researching a trip ahead of time. Is it any surprise they usually want to buy some local crafts while on vacation and that they actually seek out craftmakers whose work they enjoy?
Buying in person
Craft sales provides income for talented artisans who sell their products to tourists. The educated traveler spends a longer time visiting the artisan than someone who purchases a package trip and has little idea of what to expect.
According to Robert Healy, shopping at artisan’s home workshop can eliminate more than 40 steps in the shipping chain. Buying direct provides a higher profit for the artisan and a more memorable experience for the buyer.
Purchasing from an artisan provides a more interesting tale to share with friends than ‘I bought that at Pier One.’ Toward that end, Planeta.com features articles that promote self-guided tours that promote the purchase of locally-produced crafts.
In many markets, negotiation is part of the process. Too often well-meaning tourists will drive a hard bargain. If you find something you like, offer what you consider a fair price rather than the lowest possible bid.
Buying online and from brick-and-mortar stores
So many travelers use the handsigned folk art as a clue of where to visit. Stores are portals to a world of exploration.
Engaging the buyer
One missing step is developing engaging brochures and business cards that show a traveler how to reach the town or market where the artisans make their sales.
The artisans say that to succeed, patience is required. “You won’t make sales everyday and some artisans get discouraged, saying that the time spent in a market is time lost from producing something,” said weaver Juan Bautista.
Those who buy the artisania commercially complain that the artisans do not produce the products of a standard quality or on time. Says one: “If an artisan finishes an order ahead of time and a tourist asks if they can piece a piece, the artisan often says ‘yes’ and then tells me that the order is incomplete and that I need to wait.”
Another complaint of the buyers is that artisans may not produce materials of a sufficient quality. When problems are pointed out, they respond that it’s inevitable in the production of handcrafts.
The southern state of Oaxaca is world famous for its crafts that range from colorful wooden figures to black pottery. Markets have been popular for centuries.
After the 9/11 crisis in 2001, tourism in the villages near Oaxaca City plummeted and emigration from these towns rose as unemployment increased. To highlight the opportunities for travelers already in Oaxaca, Planeta co-hosted a seminar on artesania, tourism and the Web in the Oaxaca Options round table. This was followed by an annual rural tourism fair.
Walk with the weavers
On November 1st Associated Press syndicated a story about the impact of the summer’s political unrest on the craftspeople. “We haven’t sold a single thing in about five months,” weaver Luis Lazo Mendoza told the Associated Press reporter. “We don’t have a Web page to sell over the Internet. Besides, people like to feel the texture and quality of the carpet.”
The article states that Lazo Mendoza normally sells three or four of his families’ hand-woven, originally designed carpets a week, for about US$75 (euro60) apiece. But since the political problems started in late May, 45 unsold carpets have piled up in their home. Weavers who normally use the proceeds of their sales to buy more wool for yarn have plenty of wool, but money for food and daily expenses is running out.
Planeta.com collaborates with the artisans and the Community Museum in Teotitlán del Valle promoting weaver-guided tours.
Strategies for Artisans
For artisans coming on to the Web, we recommend low-tech options, such as documenting work on Facebook, Flickr and Instagram. Let us know what you offer and where you are located. Don’t include prices as they can fluctuate, but provide ample contact information that allow visitors to find your workshop or the galleries where your works are sold.
Strategies for Friends of Artisans, including collectors, stores and plain old friends
When posting photos of a craft, include the name of the artisan. If possible, tag them with a Twitter handle or Facebook account. Many friends sell at local markets. Check in!
For stores (brick and mortar and the virtual variety) – please show us photos of crafts, including the name of the artisan and where it was made. So many travelers use the handsigned folk art as a clue of where to visit. Your store is a portal to a world of exploration. We would love to know more about how you get your crafts and when you’re planning your next trip.
INFORMATION – What missing in this picture are up-to-date maps and inclusive directories for craft-making villages.
SIGNAGE – In the natural world towns need effective signage (street signs) and artisans need their own flyers, business cards and posters.
PAYMENT OPTIONS – Many artisans in rural villages do not have the ability to accept payments via credit cards. It would be helpful to see community-run banks that can accept credit card payments.
INEXPENSIVE SHIPPING – Shipping costs can often double the cost or a purchase. Buyers need to be presented with the options of getting their purchases back home. When possible government officials and community leaders need to collaborate so that shipping costs are as low as possible.
INNOVATION – Officials and those developing tours and export markets for crafts are advised to encourage new styles that deepen the market. Increasing awareness of a particular product (for example, the wool rugs of Teotitlán) only leads to knock offs created in Asia. Promotion needs to be tied to a connection to place and to the artisans who excel in innovative design or who follow in the footsteps of their ancestors. This information needs to be available to the buyer whether the purchase is online or on the ground.