Handmade is a unique global sector, and it is increasingly recognized by its stakeholders as a value chain appreciated for creating more than just economic impact, but social and environmental impact as well. In fact, buyers and artisan businesses in the sector, in most cases, do not see trade as a transaction but a relationship to each other, to the handmade products, and to the artisan producers and the communities they impact. It is with this in mind that Aid to Artisans (ATA), supported by Trade+Impact (T+I), and Dondrill Glover, a global market consultant, and funded by Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) conducted this research study to strengthen the handmade buyer and seller relationship and to better understand the challenges which may be limiting the sector’s growth. While this report focuses on the buyer research completed in 2021, it also references a CMH Artisan Survey conducted in 2020 by Powered by People (PBP) and T+I, funded by Mastercard Foundation, to bring a broader perspective and further highlight gaps and opportunities where they may exist.
Small independent retailers and wholesalers, 80% from North America, make up the majority of the respondents of the study. Key highlights of this report are the importance of impact areas such as “ethically sourced” and “investing in vulnerable artisan communities”, and buyers’ interest in aligning their mission and values with the artisans/sellers they choose to partner with and purchase from. Interestingly, while impact areas are critically important to buyers, fair trade certification ranks considerably lower in importance.
The study revealed that, pre-COVID, buyers were more focused on the home textile, basketry, and home décor categories versus fashion accessories. In contrast, the 2020 CMH Artisan Survey revealed production of fashion accessories as the #1 category for artisans with home textiles and basketry much lower in production ranking. There is an opportunity for artisans to consider the expansion of home décor, textiles, and basketry in their product line to appeal to a wider buyer audience.
Over 85% of buyers ranked the following areas as the most important when working with artisan businesses; quality, meeting lead times, shipping and logistics, and customer service. However, all the areas ranked most important to buyers were met with significant gaps in effectiveness. The overall highest-ranking gaps between importance and effectiveness were customer service, measuring and communicating impact, and supply chain transparency. These gaps highlight potential opportunities for growth and improvement in the sector.