Craft makers are common in Mexico. Their wide variety of textiles, pottery, leather pieces, etc. are enthusiastically searched by locals and foreigners.
This weekend I met Sonia, she lives in Pátzcuaro a small town in the state of Michoacan about 4 hours from Mexico city. Sonia sells beautiful sweaters, jorongos (ponchos) and shawls most of them hand made by herself. Actually, she is among the few craft makers still selling authentic work. But Sonia has a problem: she is the main source of support for her family. When I asked why, she said:
” there are no jobs for men”…”women here are the ones who usually support the family”…”we make our living from what tourists buy”…”if there are no tourists we do not eat”.
Unfortunately, for many craftmakers as Sonia, the best way for surviving is not the most appealing anymore. Although craftmaking provides unique pieces to wear or use, the disloyal competition of industrial products makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for craft makers to make a living with the miserable profit they obtain from the products they make.
For instance, take Sonia. She spends nearly 12 hours finishing one sweater. If we consider the base salary in Mexico, she would deserve to earn about $12 dollars for her work. In addition, she would need to cover the cost of yarn which according to my own estimates should be about $20 for 600 grams of wool. There you have a cost of at least $32 needed to cover basic expenses for producing the sweater.
And we end up with a sweater that can easily be found in stores as Macys for above $50 at regular price but that she is selling for only $25. A very good deal ah!. But she is loosing about $7 which obviously represents some of her own working hours and, probably, at the end she obtains a net profit of only $3 after discounting the cost of rent.
Why in the world would someone want to run a business like this? Is out of need? Is it due to the lack of alternatives?
According to Marta´s Turok book How to approach craftmaking (Como acercarse a la artesania) the way craftmakers have survived is by splitting their time between several jobs (e.g.: Agriculture+craftmaking+sweat shop). In any case, modes of production that used to represent modes of life for entire communities have almost entirely disappeared with the appearance of serial production. People also have had to learn to leave behind the bondage with their traditions and costumes which many times were linked to their economic activity.
What can be done to support these communities??
Examples of socially responsible businesses working in this area in Mexico and other countries which are my favorites include the following:
- Mexican Textile Art&Craft
- Fabrica Social
- Mexican Art Dealing
- Ten Thousand Villages
- The Andean Collection
- Green Ebay
- Helping Hands Rewards
Also, check this post, were the author lists a few other companies and talks about alternatives for responsible consumption.