Updated: Jul 18, 2020
Now more than ever, consumers are able to be thoughtful in their buying habits. Many are able to use their purchasing power to reflect their values. “The New Sustainability: Regeneration,” a Wunderman Thompson report (2018), found that when consumers were debating between two different brands, 83% of consumers stated that they would always opt for the brand with a better sustainability record. The findings continued by outlining that 70% of those studied reported being willing to pay more for products and services that help protect the environment and/or do not infringe on human rights. However, this trend is counterbalanced by some disturbing contradictions. 60% of consumers say they would only embrace sustainable initiatives if the inconvenience to them is small or nonexistent.
Every change counts towards the bigger picture, seeing a drastic increase in the use of sustainable items such as metal straws or cloth grocery bags are great steps that will have a long impact but there is always more that can be done. The fast fashion industry thrives on supplying the demand that is the current norm within many societies. By decreasing this demand and selecting more sustainable alternatives such as mending and caring for the clothes already in our closets to ensure the longevity of these garments, renting clothes, or simply by opting for brands with better sustainability records, we could make an even bigger impact! While the fast-paced consumerism we currently have in place is thriving so will the fast fashion industry as they will continuously adjust to supply what we demand. This has not only satisfied consumers’ whim, but it has also become daily-use supplies based on real need.
Now, let's focus on the artisan industry. Let's face it, the consumer does not buy out of a sense of sympathetic concern for the artisan; they buy crafts only if they have pleasing aesthetics and are functional. The product can only be marketable if it is attractive to the consumer, that is if the artisan's traditional skills are adapted and designed to suit contemporary consumer tastes and needs.
Worldwide, consumers are increasingly worried about climate change — yet all that worry isn’t translating into urgency when it comes to taking action (Ford, 2020).
SUSTAINABILITY IN THE ARTISANAL SECTOR
Today, most artisans are practicing traditional skills with traditional technology, but, at the same time, they are competing with machines and imported fashions. The artisan is forced to deal with and cater to a clientele who he might never see and does not understand or associate with. The artisan does not speak the same language as the client, both literally and metaphorically. On the other hand, the pressure of artisans to meet the market demands causes great pressure on the natural resources that are used. The immoderate exploitation of natural resources triggers their decrease, which in turn means that artisans cannot take advantage of these resources at all or in the same quantities, thus being forced to replace these natural materials with synthetic substitutes.
Sometimes, replacing natural materials for synthetic ones is something that adapts to or changes the original design of the artisan product. In many cases this has encouraged innovation in terms of techniques used; however, in other cases, this has decreased the final quality of the product and has forced to create simpler and smaller designs.
It is therefore really important to understand that sustainability in the artisanal sector does not end with the responsible use of resources, a constant market that is capable of strengthening traditions, techniques, and uses is also needed. Responsible innovation that meets the demands of the national and international market must also be prioritized. It is here, where intervention in the artisanal industry takes a place.
TO INTERVENE OR NOT IN THE ARTISANAL INDUSTRY
The debate about intervention in the artisanal industry is fraught with diverse opinions. For example, for cultural historians, the preservation of traditions is of primary importance, while for marketers and entrepreneurs, demand, supply chains, and market trends are the determining forces. However, what is critical in the debate, is that it is not an attempt to create a case for or against intervention in the artisanal industry, but rather explore the issues that confront the process as it exists right now, and to identify or evolve acting guidelines that contribute to making this process a meaningful and positive interaction.
Currently, Hecho X Nosotros (HxN) is researching the topics that are involved in the intervention process in the artisanal industry, as well as in creating interactive tools for artisans and small producers. Furthermore, HxN is researching and applying blockchain technology to create knowledge networks, providing users with information that ranges from technology implementation in the artisanal industry, to case studies about best practices in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the US. In doing so, people around the world empower their most conscious and responsible sense when intervening in the industry of artisan products. Adhering to ethical principles throughout, HxN continues to establish a new benchmark for the fashion industry.
SO...WHY AND HOW SHOULD I INTERVENE IN THE ARTISANAL INDUSTRY?
First of all, I would like to say that all of us can contribute our part in this regardless of what your role might be in your community. Whether you are a student, a designer, an entrepreneur, or have a different occupation, you can make a difference.
Despite the progress of communication technologies, there continue to be large gaps in awareness, information, and guidance among artisans. It is very common that artisans are unaware of the existence of more efficient and productive techniques which, in many cases, it could be right next door. Due to this lack of access to information, many artisans are unaware of the products that they could make, modify, or easily develop to meet new needs. Intervention in the artisanal industry can help raise awareness on important topics for artisans such as new methods, materials, tools, and processes that can serve as value addition to their art.
If intervention in the artisanal sector is done correctly, it can, for example, introduce profitable and sustainable technologies, improve the supply of raw material, and adapt crafts to the contemporary market. Likewise, appropriate technology offers various solutions for the use of local resources: maintenance of an ecological balance, use of renewable energy sources, elimination of laborious work thanks to the use of tools that avoid laborious, dangerous and time-consuming work, conservation of sociocultural patterns and development of the new organization, management, and marketing techniques. However, it must be taken into account that not just any technology is appropriate to obtain positive results from intervention. There are cases in which people fail to incorporate modern technologies, just because they did not consider aspects like the socioeconomic status of the artisans and the social taboos. This is why the appropriate technology must be specific and consider each of the local conditions of the artisan.
On the other hand, proposing sustainable ways for artisans to manage resources, not only guarantees the continuity of the type of species used but can also be an incentive to protect natural areas and ensure the circulation of local knowledge on the responsible use and management of these resources in the manufacture of artisan pieces. In addition, it advocates for the consumption of less polluting products over the industrial ones. That said, here, for example, future or current biologists and/or ecologists may intervene. They can help in the identification and research of natural species used by artisans, this information being the basis for formulating programs for sustainable management of natural resources.
Artisans do not typically have the resources to obtain or preserve heritage objects. In the majority of the cases, artisans also do not have access to museum collections and reference books. The person who has access to this information is you: the professor, student, designer, businessman, engineer, etc. Therefore, it is you who must be aware of the artisan traditions and interpret them with sensitivity. The current critical need is to make reference to and research studies that are communicated and made available to artisans whose needs are involved above all in this process.
Crafts need to be based on utility and on being economically viable. They have to respond to changing markets, consumer needs, fashion trends, and user preferences. Today more than ever it is time to intervene but intervene in the right way. Let's support the artisan market and the communities that need it the most.
EXCHANGE CRAFTS FOR FOOD: In Mexico, artisans stood on an avenue to invite people to exchange their crafts for food, as their sales have been affected by the contingency for Covid-19.
Author: Jessica Vargas Escobedo
Editors: Alondra Magana and Hailey Matarese
Artesanías de Colombia S.A, Craft Revival Trust & United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (2005). Designers Meet Artisans. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000147132
Chen, Y., Stafford, M., Cherian, E., Tilley, S., Prendergast, M., Rapp, J., & Jones, N., (2020). The Future 100. Wunderman Thompson Intelligence.
Ford (2020). Looking Further with Ford: 2020 Trends. Ford, 28-31.
Grupo Impulsor de Artesanías y Medio Ambiente (2009). Artesanías y Medio Ambiente.
Fondo Nacional para el Fomento de las Artesanías-FONART.