Notable Hands

Designers creating one-of-a-kind handmade products

Is Artisanal Work a Women-led Practice?

Ethical Fashion Initiative artisans

Since I started Notable Hands, I’ve contacted several non-profit organizations, as well as designers that work with artisans around the world. The focus of this blog is not to promote artisanal work specifically, but rather the craftsmanship and history behind many memorable fashion pieces that usually get overlooked by fashion magazines, and editors.

Recently, however, it was brought to my attention how several of these artisanal communities, which have gained more press attention, are ultimately portrayed as artisanal crafts exclusively practiced by women, who were taught by their mothers and grandmothers – their men were doing other types of ‘hard labor,’ I suppose.

In a recent column by The New York Times columnist Gail Collins, the author discussed Hillary Clinton’s latest endeavors, one of them being her recent visit to Peru. Among many things, Clinton toured a textile factory, talked to Peruvian minister of development and social inclusion, and attended a conference about women’s empowerment Power: Women as Drivers of Growth and Social Inclusion. “We know with hard data and scientific studies that women are the global force for economic growth,” the U.S. Secretary of State discussed. “We also know, from the work of the last decade, that women drive economic growth as producers and as consumers.”

In a way, it is the artisan women who have brought their own households out of poverty, thanks to the relationships that they have acquired with non-profits, and design houses. But there is still a long way to go for them to be seen, and treated, as equal as their men.

I wonder how much of a percentage of craft and artisanal work is done by women around the world, though; and if these are not just redundancies from the press and politicians. Us women do have a history of practicing handwork and crafts, but that doesn’t exclude men – look at art schools, or French, Italian and British artisans specialized in leather. Clinton’s speech was mainly referring to women in third world countries.

So the question is: Is it because many artisanal crafts are practiced by women, with the exception of leather, metal, foot pedal loom-based crafts, that they were underestimated as unworthy of attention and business practices before?

Non-profit organizations, such as Nest, started with the desire to empower women, heads of households. That was a personal desire of founder Rebecca Kousky. But now the organization has greatly expanded, thanks to their partnership with Maiyet and other brands, and they have reached over to male artisans, too. Their mission statement didn’t necessarily change, but it might have proven a bit restrictive to only establish business partnerships with artisan women, after all.

What initiatives like United Fashion (International Trade Centre), and non-profits like Nest ultimately want to do is share the work of artisans and place them in the context of luxury fashion, and exclusive goods. Women might be a starting point, because of the attention gain from a history of gender inequality. Ultimately, the point of this philanthropic work is not gender empowerment, but rather the well-being of artisanal communities, the upheaval of their crafts, and the business profits made thereby.

Ethical Fashion Initiative artisans

Images via International Trade Centre
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Notable Hands by Laura Acosta is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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