How Partnering with Artisans Leads to Great Product Design
We partner with artisans around the world, and traveling to meet them, to see the impact of our work in product design and development, is a great honor and privilege. Their skill, resourcefulness, and beauty in handcrafting inspire what we do: consult on product design to bring ethically-made goods to our markets.
Alyssa Roberts, new to Ten Thousand Villages was on a recent artisan trip to India and Bangladesh—her first outside North America, and her first business trip. I asked her what it was like to meet these makers and see their work in-country for the first time.
SD: AS A DESIGNER, WHAT WAS IT LIKE FOR YOU TO SEE THE IMPACT OF THE PRODUCT DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT WORK YOU DO AS YOU MET SOME OF THE ARTISANS? AND HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR ROLE IN MAKING AN IMPACT ON ARTISANS’ LIVES?
AR: One of the main takeaways from our trip was the importance of product development. We spent a lot of time in the different groups’ showrooms where they have everything displayed that the artisans are already making or have made in the past. And while there were many things we saw and liked, there are often changes we want to make to adjust the product’s design to either improve functionality or to better appeal to our customers. In my role, I’m able to work with the artisan groups to design products that are modern, trending, or more carefully considered for the US market. This allows them to receive more orders and more consistent work to support themselves and their families and be self-sufficient.
SD: WHAT WAS IT LIKE FOR YOU TO SEE THIS FIRSTHAND?
AR: Incredible! The artisans welcomed us with open arms at every office and workshop we visited. They encouraged us to spend as much time as we needed. People seemed genuinely happy to meet us. They love their work and want to share it with us, to get orders placed and see the products do well in the US. It really surprised me how excited everyone was to see us.
SD: WHAT ELSE SURPRISED YOU, THIS BEING YOUR FIRST TIME FAR ABROAD?
AR: The weather! It was COLD! Yes, it was January, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to need a winter coat. Samuel from Noah’s Ark told us that India reached record-low temperatures in some areas, maybe it has to do with climate change? But I wasn’t expecting it.
SD: BUT YOU DID HAVE YOUR COAT? SO SOMEONE TRIED TO PREP YOU FOR IT? HOW ELSE DID YOU PREPARE?
AR: I didn’t have my winter coat! I wasn’t prepared in that aspect! You think ‘India’, and you think warm sunny weather but it wasn’t. Samuel told us about the record lows after we were already there for a while talking about how surprised we were that it was so cold. He said a lot of schools were closed longer than usual for the holiday break because of it.
I was prepared in a lot of other ways. Melissa Hand
SD: WHAT WERE YOU NOT PREPARED FOR?
AR: The pollution and the poverty. I wasn’t surprised, so much as I didn’t expect the degree. The cloudiness and pollution in the air were really bad, to the point where cracking a window if you were car sick, didn’t really help because the air wasn’t fresh. It was also hard to see the poverty up close in the densely urban areas, but it’s the reality of the situation for some, and it’s why we do what we do: and try to help in any way we can.
SD: WHAT MEMORY FROM YOUR TRIP TO INDIA & BANGLADESH WILL STAY WITH YOU FOREVER?
AR: Watching the artisans do their work, particularly artisans at the block print workshops carving the wooden blocks. It blows my mind the amount of skill that these artisans have. To see them in person doing that highly detailed work in combination with hearing their stories really puts everything into perspective. It really drives home our mission and why we do what we do. Everyone should know what beautiful work these artisans do!
Alyssa Roberts is a Product Designer & Development Assistant at Ten Thousand Villages. Taking an idea, and working with artisans to make it real, is everything: being part of the story that connects the goods, with the people who craft it, and the customers who bring it into their homes. Alyssa finds inspiration in everyday moments, hiking with her two dogs and boyfriend, or puzzling at home in Allentown, PA.