The holiday shopping season is upon us. Stores and streets across America are now awash in bright lights and festive decor.
The National Retail Federation recently reported that consumers expect to spend $997.73 million in holiday-related items in 2021.
It is, indeed, time to celebrate. But how about we extend the celebratory gestures and spending beyond Amazon and big-box retailers? Let’s bring artisans and makers into our circle of celebration.
The U.S. and global artisan marketplace is expanding and making an increased impact on the economy worldwide. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development estimates that the artisan, maker and small business economy is $34 billion a year. In the developing world, artisan businesses are the second largest industry after agriculture.
Despite these promising stats, the global artisan marketplace was devastated by the pandemic. A June report from Nest—a U.S. nonprofit that empowers and supports global artisan communities—noted: “Nest surveyed our global network of artisan business partners to determine the impact of COVID-19 on their businesses. Of the 200 respondents, 80 percent reported that their production was halted, and 68 percent reported that current or future orders had been canceled. These canceled orders totaled more than $7.2 million dollars in revenue to artisan businesses.”
I heard a similar concern as I worked with an artisan liaison in Pakistan to spotlight the region’s artisans’ craft through my women’s accessories startup. A vast majority of Pakistan’s artisans are women who live in rural areas. They juggle parenting, cooking, helping out on the farm and using their embroidery skills to supplement their family income. Most of the artisans possess some literacy skills at best, and health insurance is a luxury for them, not a right. These artisans were in desperate need of support during the pandemic, the liaison told me.
Let’s disconnect from our chaotic holiday shopping season for a minute and take a look at what these artisans and makers offer that big-box retailers can’t.
For one thing, handmade pieces have their own beauty and story. The handicrafts showcase techniques and artistry that have been passed down through generations.
Have you heard of the Gullah weavers of South Carolina and/or the Gee’s Bend quilters of Alabama? Nest’s partnerships with Etsy and Bloomberg Philanthropies have brought new awareness and appreciation for these centuries-old artistic skills and the artisans who make them.
Halfway around the world, the ajrak dyeing process popular in Sindh, Pakistan is a technique dating back some 5,000 years. Ajrak, a rectangular piece of block-printed dyed fabric is an essential part of the Sindhi heritage, worn by men, women and newborns and is also commonly worn at the time of a person’s passing. The dyeing process utilizes more than a dozen steps. If you meet ajrak artisans, you’ll notice their perpetually stained fingers—a reminder of the long and beloved dyeing process.
When you support artisan-made, you’re helping to preserve these incredible cultures and traditions. And, you’re enriching yourself by learning something about a beautiful past.
Supporting artisan-made helps us succeed together. Artisan-made takes a bite out of fast fashion and mass production, ensures fair wages and expands income opportunities for these amazing workers.
So, take a moment to learn about these driven craftsmen and craftswomen. That was my pandemic learning, and it has brought more purpose to my life.
Munira Syeda is a PR Consultant in Dallas metro and founder of impact startup Chic & Gold. She can be reached at email@example.com.