Close up of multicolored artisan rugs piled on top of each other

Technology Boosts Artisan Economy

15 Jul 2016 by Susie Steckner

While many of us are vacationing during this time of year, we don’t have to trek further than our living room to buy souvenirs from foreign places. Shopping for artisan-made goods from around the globe has never been easier thanks to internet startups and mobile tech. And the global celebration dedicated to web browsing — Worldwide Web Day (August 1) — gives us the perfect excuse to shop online to our heart’s — and fingertip’s — content.

Think custom rugs from weavers in a remote Moroccan village. Coffee tables crafted from salvaged avocado tree trunks in Guatemala. Fair trade cotton scarves made in Thailand. Intricate folk art paintings from India.

Buyers can browse everything from jewelry to home décor, picking up one-of-a-kind, handcrafted goods in an increasingly mass-produced, machine-made world.

They can also make deeper connections with artists creating the goods they are purchasing. Online business may feature artists’ Kickstarter campaigns, video stories about artists’ lives, and even the tools of the craft for creating items like a woven basket, or silver and stone necklace.

At the same time, buyers’ purchases are creating jobs, promoting sustainability and driving economies in developing countries.

Connecting online

The artisan sector worldwide is seeing dramatic growth. International trade in artisan goods more than doubled between 2002 and 2012, totaling more than $32 billion annually, according to the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise. In fact, the artisan sector is the second largest employer in the developing world.

Last year, the U.S. Department of State convened a forum aimed at expanding the potential of artisan enterprises globally. Tech will play a vital role in achieving that goal.

Consider Novica, the oldest online business working with the sector.

Since 1999, Novica has been connecting online customers with wood carvers, weavers, sculptors and other artists around the world. What began as a fledgling adventure with 200 artisan groups has grown into a multi-faceted operation that has sent more than $67 million to artisans worldwide.

Technology is enabling even more online businesses to showcase artisan goods and foster economic success. Here’s a look at four other businesses bringing the world to you:

  1. Startup GlobeIn offers an eclectic mix from artisans around the globe. From practical (kitchen spices and coasters) to whimsical (dragon pillow pets and zebra book ends), there’s something for everyone here. Shoppers can also sign up for a subscription service to receive artisan boxes — actually colorful woven baskets — built around themes like kitchen goods or celebrations. Beyond their purchases, shoppers can support artists through Kickstarter campaigns featured on the site.
  2. Shoppers will find a highly curated global collection of furniture and textiles at Maya Mueble. The startup works with artisans in Guatemala and El Salvador to offer a “socially conscious” line of modern home goods.
  3. Soko uses tech to connect consumers with artisans and their handcrafted jewelry. The unique pieces feature natural and upcycled materials, and come from mobile-enabled artisans in emerging economies. The goal: to engage the international marketplace, even if artists don’t have access to the internet or a computer.
  4. Anou is designed to give artists more control over their businesses. With a language-free interface, they can add their own products to the Anou website and handle their own business operations. Artists access the site using computers in internet cafes or on their cell phones, snap a picture of goods for sale and then click the appropriate icon to place it in a category such as pillow, bracelet or rug.

If you can’t afford an international airline ticket — or even a domestic flight — to paradise, perhaps you can splurge on a one-of-a-kind creation. At the same time, you’ll support the artisan, as well as feel a little less jealous of those who are jetting off to a relaxing place.