Creating a Global Artisan Marketplace

Posted by Flux on 

12 November 2013


What’s trending now?

Online crafting marketplaces, like Etsy, have taken advantage of the online shopping craze.  These marketplaces are comprised of individual retailers who market their own handiwork, crafts and vintage clothing.  It’s a revolutionised version of eBay, where prices are set, and buyers are after unique and hand-crafted items.  It’s a tribute to the creativity of individuals that still allows for a wide marketplace.

However, Etsy sellers are among the elite of craftspeople – not for their skills (although no one is doubting their talents), or the product they create.  These types of marketplaces are available only to the technologically connected – meaning people who’ve grown up in a world of relative privilege.

But now, similar solutions are evolving to assist those craftsmen that need it the most – those in developing countries with limited access to technology and internet.  These online marketplaces are aimed at providing 100% profit for participating artisans.

Why it’s important

In rural communities across Africa handicraft is more than a tradition – it’s the only means of income for many families.  In larger economies, such as South Africa, with a booming tourist trade, cities are inundated with the crafts produced in outlying villages.  One would think that the largest obstacle is simply getting the product to the marketplace where tourists will pay top dollar for souvenirs.  Even if local residents, wanting to display their African pride, drive the price down a bit, it’s a common assumption that rural artisans make a killing off their wares.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, many of the craftsmen are actually craftswomen who receive remarkably little profit for their efforts.  According to Gwendolyn Floyd, an international entrepreneur, “Women in Africa produce 60 to 80 percent of the continent’s goods, yet they earn only 10 percent of the incomes.”  And that’s one of the key factors that pushed her to develop an app which would increase the profits of women artisans in Africa.

Floyd and her fellow founding partners created Soko to address the imbalance between work and profit in the developing world craft trade.  This app allows rural women to photograph and sell their creations online through a simple mobile app.  They don’t even need to have access to the internet or a bank account – as long as they can SMS.  Consumers on the other side simply browse and shop online, paying with a credit card as per usual.  Once the artisan delivers their wares to a designated kiosk, they receive payment for their goods.

GlobeIn is a similar platform which focuses on poverty stricken areas across the globe – sending representatives to photograph and profile the artisans they feature.  GlobeIn takes it even further with their Artisan Gift Box membership.  Rather than waiting for indecisive philanthropists to make a selection from the website, Globeln will send members a gift box of hand crafted items, along with the stories of the artisans included.

Both sites claim that artisans receive 100% of their asking price.

What’s the butterfly effect?

With any luck, platforms such as Soko and GlobeIn will be able to expand their operations and grow their visibility to both consumers and craftsmen in rural areas.  Provided these and similar companies don’t dilute the profit stream, this model could be a source of significant growth in rural areas.  It could also mean the globalisation of handicrafts that are still largely unknown in other parts of the world.

The pioneers

Soko and GlobeIn are both relatively new companies, but they’ve received some heavy accolades from the media.  In this instance, socially conscious consumers should question whether other companies would help or hinder the work of a few successful retailers.

The global hot spots

The fantastic thing about this trend is that it spans the globe, from Moldova to the United States.  Big or small, developed or developing – all that matters is what side of the app you’re on.

By: Katie Schenk

About Katie

KGB - Eastside

Katie is South African by choice, but she’s proud of being American too.  She’s a writer, a producer, and a momma.  If she can shut off – she sleeps.  Her interests include advertising, home economics, entrepreneurial processes, South African idiosyncrasies, and rugby. (Really).  She’s also a fan of Tudor history – but there’s nothing trendy (or trending) in that.

Image credit: Getty Images/ Gallo Images

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