Saturday, July 3, 2010

Pakistan Handmade Expo experience

I got to the Expo early. I couldn't wait. The booths were beautifully and in most cases, simply appointed, showcasing the items these women-owned businesses wanted to share with those of us working in the US market.
The first booth was beautifully laid out with many different home accessories and some handbags. The Craft Company's owner, Muna, was still putting some last minute touches to the booth. I apologized for being early - she said, no problem, I've been ready for over an hour.
I had a long talk, got background on her, how she got started, with whom she works, surprisingly enough, she oversaw mostly men. Women don't like to do the kinds of craft she produces. They think that cutting tile to make mosaics is hard labor. Interesting considering the San women I work with laboriously grind, sand, polish ostrich eggshell for hours/days to make their beads.
I wanted to speak to all of the women since I was, afterall, "working" for USAID. I took this first buying trip very seriously. But I quickly realized, by stopping to talk to each owner, I was committing to some sort of business dealing and I wasn't prepared, as is my nature, to hurt anyone's feelings.
As it was, after the expo, we would head out on site visits in other cities. I couldn't decide between Lahore and the silver jewelry designer and the more traditional crafts of the old city of Multan. I let Haale, our coordinator decide. She decided on Lahore. But last minute, I was switched to Multan since she thought the traditional aspects of these crafts would be better suited to my mission. During the Expo, women knew who was coming to their town, to their workshops. I was supposed to go to Multan.
But after meeting Amna and seeing her gorgeous jewelry, I realized how great this relationship could be. She saw it as well and asked that I be switched to Lahore.

There were other businesses I saw that appealed to me. I was surprised by the embroidery - not your mom's embroidery to be sure. There were several clothing lines that I could see in my store and after speaking with the owners, I ordered samples. Beena, looked just like my cousin MaLou. I instantly liked her and felt comfortable with her largely due to this, but as I inspected her handbags, jewelry and shoes, I could see the same sensibilities. I loved one bracelet's embroidery - a raised form with a striking glass bead to enhance the bold stitches. I decided to have her make that design on bracelets, handbags, headbands, and chokers.
Another woman had very simple tunic dresses with modern embroidery around the collar. Elegant, but simple. A bit young for my clientele, but flattering and I LOVED them all. I picked three different dresses, asked her to make samples in three sizes and in heavier fabric since we were now buying for winter and I was on a roll. Rubina was soft spoken and so her husband would chime in. What turned out to be eager exuberance, I first saw as dominance. Was this just another woman who was being suppressed by her husband. No, it turns out. She is a wonderful designer and really knew her skill. He was being helpful, or so he thought. There are worse crimes inflicted by men than wanting to see his wife succeed. I felt a great affinity toward them after spending some time with them.
Then there are the two Entrepreneur projects (another of USAID projects being spearheaded by Aid to Artisan former consultants). These groups were so well spoken, really understanding their audience (me!), the products and producers. Their booths were well appointed and they were prepared with beautiful catalogs and pricelists - market readiness had been well implemented here. They were impressive. I looked forward to sitting down with them and developing many new product lines for my store - I quickly realized, I need to start seriously looking for those other locations for Women's Work in order to fully utilize these connections. I was very excited!
While I didn't find I could buy from every booth, I did try to be constructive and encouraging. Many of the businesses, even the ones I decided to work with had misconceived ideas about how to move ahead with the buyers from the USA. One told me her minimum order was 500 pieces per item. A few charged retail price for samples. Many didn't have catalogs, pricelists, or websites. All had to re-evaluate their prices for wholesale, which I am told is 3-5 times less than retail.
I was surprised by the currency of their designs. Most right on target for the US market. I was surprised that many had thriving businesses with customers in the UK and Japan. And many made samples only for this Expo. Kaarvan made dresses for the first time for this show! I was flabbergasted. They were able to ramp up and deliver in a few short months. Yes, these businesses were ready for the US market. I was humbled by their talents, their efforts and I felt great privilege to be one of the ones to bring them here to you.

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