Producing and selling African crafts: dos and don’ts

Kati modelling SAHEL bags

Back in January I blogged about the launch of SAHEL design, an exciting new craft label which is both traditional and innovative. ‘Style with roots’ is the tagline for the label. The techniques used for producing West African reins, girths and tassles are centuries old, yet the applications Charlie Davies has found for them are fresh and contemporary. Over the past few months I have come to appreciate the thinking behind the SAHEL label, and to realize its relevance to anyone wanting to produce or sell African crafts.

So here are five dos and five don’ts for doing business the SAHEL way:

  • Don’t make talented African craftspeople produce tourist tat
  • Don’t teach techniques which are alien to local culture
  • Don’t use materials that are not locally available
  • Don’t limit retail to fair trade shops, charity shops and churches
  • Don’t use sob stories to generate sales – there is little dignity in ‘pity purchases’
  • Do spend time finding out what crafts are traditional in a particular area
  • Do find modern uses (and therefore new markets) for traditional skills
  • Do pay a fair wage for work (more than artisans would be getting ‘locally’ but not so much as to skew the local market)
  • Do create incentives for elderly craftspeople to teach younger generations, so that knowledge is not lost
  • Do reinvest profits in projects which will benefit not just the craftsperson but an entire community

In the words of founder Charlie Davies, “SAHEL design is about discovering, celebrating and reviving traditional craft techniques. It’s about learning from and respecting the people who make them. It’s about seeing the continuation of skills into future generations by making them profitable today.”

Enough philosophy. Have a look at look at the products themselves, now available on Charlie’s new online shop JAM shop. If you see anything you like, please do click the Facebook ‘Like’ button on the individual product page.

Don’t click ‘Like’ because it’s a good cause. Click ‘Like’ because it’s a beautiful product. We are excited about the future of this business, and Facebooks ‘Likes’ do help to spread the word.

Published by

Stephen Davies

Children's author: picture books, chapter books and YA novels

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