5 Ways Designers Can Empower Female Artisans in Developing Countries

Today I've Asked Danica, a socially conscious designer living in Vietnam, to share with us. I hope you enjoy her thoughts on how Designers Can Empower Female Artisans in Developing Countries!

As a sustainable fashion designer and the founder of a socially conscious handbag line, I have experienced firsthand the power of creating demand for female artisans’ skills in developing countries, like Vietnam. One of the most important types of empowerment, which is economic empowerment, can make women less vulnerable and dependent, can help improve their education, decrease child mortality rate and positively change a family’s quality of life overall. By having long-term relationships with artisans, we can witness the magnitude of these partnerships’ effects on their families’ lives and on the rest of their communities.

 An example of an empowered artisan I know is a successful Cham weaver and businesswoman I met while searching for ethnic communities to partner with in Vietnam. With her skills, knowledge and savviness, she was able to start and run a weave wholesale shop in Saigon, open a weaving workshop in her hometown, and build a cultural center for visitors who come to learn about her ethnic group’s traditions- all run by female workers. This empowered woman has now affected many other female artisans’ lives in extremely positive ways, giving them opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

 To make similar transformations in other developing countries, designers can empower female artisans in the following 5 ways:

  1. Provide jobs- Oftentimes women struggle to find work in developing countries, either due to being geographically isolated, unable to communicate and connect linguistically to an international market, or due to a lack of demand for their skills altogether. As designers, it is our responsibility to construct with a purpose and provide demand for the skills of artisans who could use some extra support, all the while creating value to consumers. Actual work, not charity, provides a sustainable and long-lasting way to empower women.
  2. Provide fair wages- What is the point in providing jobs for female artisans if you aren’t going to pay them a fair wage? Often times these workers can be exploited in developing countries, and are usually forced to work in terrible conditions, causing them more harm than before the brand entered their lives. This is why organizations, like Fair Trade, were created; to hold businesses accountable for unethical business practices.
  3. Provide training- Provide a way for women to develop new skills and teach them how to create commercially, as well as allow them to scale-up and make products that are of higher value. This training can revolve around them practicing their actuals skills to hone them further, teaching them new ways of managing quality control and how to work with international partners, work with them on creating products for a global market, and running their business efficiently and effectively.
  4. Encourage entrepreneurship- Most of the time female artisans already have an entrepreneurial mindset, but just need a little encouragement and some support to explore their abilities. You will often find extremely resilient women willing to do anything without fear of failure; anything they can, in order to be able to provide for their families. This is a huge untapped resource that needs to be advocated for.  
  5. Tell their stories- Learn about these women, let them know that they are important, and tell others about their lives so that these women are celebrated and encouraged not just by the designer, but by the world community as a whole.

My question to you is in what other ways do you think designers and individual consumers can empower female artisans? 

I’d love to hear what you think! You can email me directly to keep the conversation going or tweet us @wildtussah.

About Danica

Danica Ratte is a travel addict who grew up and went to university in the US, moved to Australia for 3.5 years, and now resides in Vietnam, living out her dreams of designing consciously. She was inspired to start her sustainable handbag line, Wild Tussah, after a life-changing 5-week trip through South East Asia. Danica was blown away by the local ethnic weavers’ skills and their excitement to teach others about it. After she found out that these weave cultures were in danger of going extinct, she decided she had to work with the artisans directly to help preserve their traditions. Now she asks this question every day: “Do you know where your bags come from?” If you are interested in reading more about women's empowerment, sustainable fashion, culture preservation, weaving traditions, eco-tourism and anything else Vietnam-related, check out the Wild Tussah blog