Artesanas Campesinas is unique among the enterprises visited by TWU’s Executive MBA International Study Group for two major reasons. Firstly, it is not a corporation or even a privately held business; it is a non-profit cooperative of artisans. Secondly, its goals are much broader than the pursuit of profit; it represents an effort to save the local economy of a community and to preserve traditional craft techniques.
The collective was started in the early 1990s by a group of women artisans from the Mexican village of Tecalpulco. In May 2000, these craftswomen formed a non-profit, worker-owned, producer cooperative in Taxco, Guerreo, Mexico. Their specialty is handcrafted pewter jewelry, stone and shell inlays, jewel tone enamels, private label manufacturing, and thematic pieces featuring native American symbols, Celtic symbols, Aztec and Mayan calendars and much more.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the villages surrounding Taxco were made famous by the creation of abalone shell jewelry. These elaborate designs were popular worldwide. Changing fashions caused the markets for this jewelry to collapse in the 1990s, and suddenly these abalone pieces were no longer considered valuable. The artisans struggled to find ways to continue working and sought new forms of production, new styles, and new customers.
A group of women artisans were able to save a centrifugal casting machine from a small foreign-owned factory where they worked. This casting machine became the base of their cooperative effort to create employment. The 1990s were very difficult since the traditional markets of the Mexican artisan were flooded with all kinds of products including cheaper handcrafts from China, India, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.
“Our goal is to connect the rich handcrafts tradition of our community with the present day markets of the world in order to provide for our families and give our children dignified lives. We expect that when we finally succeed, our cooperative can become a model for other cooperatives in Mexico and other countries and that we can share what we have learned. We have created a website (http://www.artcamp.com.mx/) and developed a CD-ROM catalog to make our products available to prospective clients. We are working to become experts with these types of marketing systems.”
“We would like to be able to show other women artisans how they can control their lives by being creative, efficient and productive. Our handcraft work is who we are, giving us our daily bread and providing a hope that one day things will be better. Our main goal is to create conditions for a renaissance of the once-successful cottage craft industry of our locality by creating new, timely designs in fashion and managing a modern production business of service, quality, reliability and accuracy to our customers.”
|Artesanas Campesinas is an important source of income for many families in several villages. These women manufacture inexpensive, quality handcrafted jewelry with original designs, making each piece by models and molds. Each mold is hand cut, baked for one to one and one-half hours, and then measured so that the silver or pewter can be poured in it. After pieces to be inlaid are cast, a village artist takes the unfinished product home, uses resin to glue stones, and hand finishes each piece. When the artist brings back all the finished jewelry, ArtCamp’s quality control personnel check each piece carefully. Then the artist’s quality rating is input in the computer with the date, description, number of pieces, job codes and customer shipment information.
These women hold regular assemblies where the artisans, marketers, and administrators discuss ways to improve production and distribution. These meetings are inspirational because they focus on ways that working together can overcome economic hardships and provide employment. Although founded and managed by the women of the collective, entire families are often active in home-based jewelry finishing, and some male relatives also have jobs within the organization.
The women of ArtCamp are incredibly resourceful. In 2001, they organized the donation of a modern ophthalmic surgery center worth $15,000 for their local public hospital. DHL International contributed the delivery of the machine from Columbus, Ohio, to Adolfo Prieto Hospital in Taxco, Mexico. Artesanas Campesinas is also working with the village water commission to help address the need for clean water in Tecalpulco.
Artesanas Campesinas is a member of the Fair Trade Federation and Crafts Center, both located in Washington, D.C. ArtCamp was awarded the prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life from the Women’s World Summit Foundation in Geneva, Switzerland. ArtCamp has also been awarded several grants from Aid to Artisans of Farmington, Connecticut to establish their website (http://www.artcamp.com.mx/).
Although the beautiful products ArtCamp creates by hand illustrate a “high-touch” heritage of artistic craft techniques, perhaps even more impressive is their sophisticated use of computer technology and the critical role it plays in every aspect of the organization’s operations. They make extensive use of the internet and e-mail communications in marketing. In addition, every phase of production, order processing, sales and distribution is tracked with custom-designed spreadsheet and data applications.
Artesanas Campesinas’ activities demonstrate that even in a place which many students in our group viewed as remote, technology and computer resources are a pivotal component of doing business with the complexity and professionalism needed to compete. Everyone at TWU was very impressed with the detailed documentation of our visit that ArtCamp promptly posted on their website (http://www.artcamp.com.mx/friends/texas/index.htm).
rtCamp seeks to sell directly to retailers and individuals thereby eliminating the distributor
who currently marks up the products and recapturing this additional profit margin.
The collective plans to use this money to:
1) Install a shipping facility at the Taxco shop
2) Pay for an inventory of finished or partially finished products for immediate shipment.
If ArtCamp had the money to stock inventory, it could speed turn time on website and catalog purchases
3) Upgrade its computer resources to better integrate sales, production, inventory, and order fulfillment
4) Execute a sophisticated, modern, marketing campaign
The skill, work ethic and love of what these women do every day is evident by their bright smiles.
Artesanas Campesinas is a group of truly inspiring women. They opened their hearts
and their business to us. They are proud of their cooperative—and should be
as it is a successful, growing enterprise.
Jewelry that is made as part of a social-enterprise effort; of real benefit to artisan producer group and community is Fair Trade Jewelry.