In the Spirit of Social Impact
We met up with three artisans to learn about their impact on their local communities
The beauty of an artisan’s hands threading a wooden shuttle through thousands of hand-spun cotton strings is beyond definition, as is the cadence of a foot pushing a pedal loom while two strong arms run the weft shuttle up and down. You might look at nimble, swift fingers crocheting a tajine-shaped hanging lampshade, or at a potter’s arms contracting while mixing clay, and be left speechless at the mastery these simple movements communicate.
Over the last two years, we’ve had the privilege of partnering with master artisans from Morocco, Mexico, and Colombia; weavers, ceramicists, coppersmiths, hat makers, and designers who passionately create original crafts that bring color and soul into our homes and lives. There’s no better time than Christmas, as we unwrap the exciting gifts received from loved ones, to uncover the source of these items, the process of their creation, and the lives touched by purchasing them.
We caught up with three of our partners, Taller Maya, Hamimi, and Ochoinfinito, to chat about their work with local communities and the ways in which they support them, from helping them price their wares to modernizing craft processes and designs.
Taller Maya has been working with artisan collectives around the Yucatán peninsula for almost twenty years, to maintain ancestral indigenous traditions throughout Mexico.
When they work with artisans, the first thing that stands out is the special relationship between designers and makers. “We don’t use a top-down approach where a designer shows up with a sketch and tells the artisan to make it,” José from Taller Maya explains, “Rather, we work with them on prototypes of the product, and test what does or doesn’t work once the design comes off the page.
Similarly, Ochoinfnitio was born when Colombian architect Carlos Garzón partnered with business administrator Juan Camilo, to channel Carlos’s work in restoration and the preservation of crafts into a brand of home decor that today collaborates with multiple indigenous communities around Colombia.
For Carlos, it is paramount to understand what each technique entails and what kind of product it suits best. “Before I even sit down with an artisan to work on a design, I want to have a good understanding of their process. I might suggest to them color combinations, palettes, or patterns, but I always leave the iconography up to them. The actual figures on our pieces are a language the artisans use to talk about the things that matter to them: the environment and nature, their traditions, their beliefs.”
Meaning “close to your heart” in the local Moroccan dialect, Hamimi was set up by brother and sister Alex & Rebecca to highlight the wealth of amazing crafts in Morocco, working with Berber communities to preserve their traditions and identities.
This symbiotic relationship continues in the mutual exploration of techniques and design, and the combination of the artisans’ unique experience and skill with the designers’ more modern perspectives is a winning match.
“When you work with an artisan through the whole process from design to completion, any initial resistance quickly fades away,” José explains. “One of our aims at Taller Maya is to give artisans a competitive advantage on the market by opening up the use of traditional techniques on new, unusual products, giving them a chance to experiment in a safe environment.”
At Hamimi, much of Rebecca’s designs come from elements of Moroccan culture or iconography, but they are delivered in ways that the artisans would consider unusual and therefore less obvious to them. “Our Joosh Crochet Lampshades, for example, were initially inspired by traditional Moroccan tajine pots. I sketched the design and showed it to our women artisans just outside of Marrakech, opening them up to the idea that the crochet technique could also be applied to something as unusual as pendant lamps.”
While artisan communities are the keepers of ancient wisdom and tradition, they often work purely out of love for their craft. Because most of them start learning the technique as children, they often regard them as an integral part of their identity and family dynamics, sometimes failing to understand their full value.
At Ochoinfinito, Carlos and his team train the makers on the value chain of an item, encouraging the artisans to consider all aspects of the manufacture. “For example, with a technique as complicated as tamo, we encourage the artisans to think about all the people who contribute to the various phases of the production.
First of all collecting the leftover fibers from the wheat harvest, assembling them in bales to transport them, taking them to the city, washing and drying them, before straightening them ready for the master artisan to apply them to a piece and create their beautiful design.”
Similarly, Taller Maya always approaches new makers’ communities with a period of training first. “Oftentimes, artisans lack elements to make an informed decision about pricing, such as market trends and the current value of labor, because the labor might be their brother or cousin,” José explains. With time, each community becomes fully independent and able to make informed choices on how to price their products and diversify their stock, which is the ultimate goal of design collectives such as Taller Maya.
“For us, the experience has been quite different,” Rebecca confesses over in Morocco, “We work mostly with women and, despite stereotypes, they are incredibly empowered and aware of the value of their time and skills. For us, transparency is key to establishing fair and mutually beneficial relationships. The kind of work we are able to provide the women which fits around their lives as mothers and wives and ultimately allows them to provide for their families. And thanks also to my fairly decent Darjia, we have established trust and respect, making most of our artisans an extension of our family,” Rebecca laughs.
Ultimately, as one of Taller Maya’s founders says, “we don’t work with the artisans, we work for the artisans.” And that really is the meaning of fair trade for us at The Nopo: we’re helping local collectives, designers, and families to empower indigenous communities and artisans to keep doing what they have been doing for thousands of years.
Connecting conscious consumers to the amazing wealth of talent in harder-to-reach destinations, our responsibility lies in making sure these ancestral crafts are not lost to the modern world, but rather they are integrated into it. Hop on the journey with us and shop our holiday collection today.
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