The ATA-Armenia project was short by ATA standards, operating for just two years through funding from USAID channeled through Save the Children. The project objective was to generate employment and improve artisans’ livelihoods by utilizing the true spirit of an Armenian entrepreneur: fearlessness, grit and passion for craft. One example of this spirit is the story of an Armenian artisan who drove over snow capped peaks during a storm, the only person on the road, to deliver an order of six carved wooden spoons, ruined his car, but made the order happen. In this project, ATA hoped to stabilize the macro functions of Armenians. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union many people were faced with a desperate situation: no heat, water or electricity. Hand craft skills, which had always been valued in Armenia, provided an immediate source of employment for hundreds of people afflicted by financial hardship.
What We Did:
Three international product design consultants worked with various knit, wood and metal workshops over the course of the project. They developed new products, grounded in Armenian tradition, targeted to the U.S. and European markets. Their design input was essential to entering these new markets, as one Armenian artisan put it, “I knew we had to do it. We needed a designer who lives in the country where your market is. It’s not about them being better or worse. It’s about them having a different set of knowledge. That’s why this assistance, input, is a must.”
Considerable mentoring, practicum opportunities and one-on-one meetings with two business consultants. The focus of the training was developing a successful export strategy, costing and pricing for export and developing and maintaining business links with importers.
The goal of ATA is always to leave artisan workshops with market links that they can sustain themselves after our project ends. These market links were developed at the New York International Gift Fair (NYIGF). There, artisans and exporters showcased their newly designed product collections directly to retailers, and at the same time held meetings with other exhibitors interested in importing their products. The artisans from Armenia attended four NYIGF trade shows, resulting in several importer contacts that are still thriving today, 11 years later.
Results & Benefits
- Annual sales at the end of the project in 1997 were $180,000. Five years later, not only were the workshops sustaining themselves, their annual sales grew to over $600,000, equating to $2.5 million in cumulative sales during that period.
- The Sharan Craft Center (SCC) was founded to preserve craft and culture. By early 1995, SCC placed nearly $30,000 in orders from 35 U.S. buyers. SCC’s production increased from 2,000 knit products a month to 10,000.
- Jobs were created employing 500 women; 200 – 400 have work at any one time and they typical SCC artisans earn 164% of the national per capita income.
- Livelihoods were improved with most artisans earning an average monthly income of $77. With extra money, families made repairs to apartments, helped relatives in need or bought school supplies for their children.
“Before ATA I would say, “Oh, I cannot do that.” Now I say, “Give me more work”. Armenian knit artisan