ATA expanded its reach into Nicaragua this Spring by participating in Reto Diseño (RD), initiated and executed by Manos Nicas (MN) a Nicaraguan artisan enterprise. MN is a growing network of craft stores and a non-profit division dedicated to human development, gender issues and business training. RD, the first event of this kind in Nicaragua, was led by MN owners Franklin Sanchez and Ingrid Soza, graduates of ATA’s signature Market Readiness Program TM. The event launched a discussion on how to revitalize design in Nicaragua, making artisan work relevant to local markets and expand into the global arena.

Our evaluation of the Nicaraguan artisan sector revealed significant market potential in pottery, basketry, carved wood and stone, horn jewelry, and the MN signature product of cornhusk paintings and notecards. However, our rapid assessment also revealed a lack of market-based design innovation, lack of an indigenous textile tradition, and an absence of buyer linkages beyond the local market.

“While there is local expertise in several craft techniques, the motifs in use do not express specifically Nicaraguan cultural heritage” states Monika Steinberger, ATA’s Director of Program management and Development. ATA’s design development workshops will help articulate a local Nicaraguan aesthetic, based on pre-colonial history and culture.

ATA designer Daniela Viscarra, who will lead the workshop in July, is looking forward to training MN designers and artisans to develop a specific Nicaraguan cultural identity for the organization. This cultural identity will be expressed in innovative design.  The workshop will also identify sales strategies for the organization and guide it on a path towards becoming a social enterprise.  Viscarra adds, “The new designs will be developed based on cultural history. We will revive ancient motifs, using traditional craft media, with the goal to generate new collections that are representative, unique and tell a story.”

Franklin Sanchez, founder of MN, is enthusiastic about the upcoming design workshop, “The ATA specialists have knowledge of the market. This will help us to focus on the changes appropriate for the market. They will also help us to better understand and implement quality control”. In addition to the their cornhusk paintings, MN wants to add new products in their stores. “Combining different raw materials to create new products adds enormous value”, adds Sanchez. MN’s leadership is determined to make MN a leader in the domestic market and eventually export to international markets.

Sanchez holds Nicaraguan artisans in great esteem and has a grand vision for their development. “Artisans are our partners in this business and they are an integral part of our network. Through the business partnership with MN, they can market their products at a fair price and sell more so that their families can meet their needs and have a better life”.

We wish MN and Nicaraguan artisans the very best in the upcoming design innovation workshops that will help introduce Nicaragua’s untapped cultural heritage globally.