Inspired by the landscape, culture, and richly influenced by its age-old heritage, Tunisian crafts have had limited exposure in local Medinas and few places overseas. However, given the tremendous potential and demand for handmade craft, ATA is offering new opportunities for Tunisians crafts to expand to the US market.
This March, ATA launched its maiden venture in Tunisia by organizing the largest-ever local Market Readiness Program (MRP) in Tunis, enhancing the crafts and business skills of 50 artisan entrepreneurs. ATA conducted the MRP in collaboration with the International Organization for Human Development (IDH) at the headquarters of the National Office of Handicraft (ONAT). Our project is funded by the US State Department.
The program provided valuable information in an interactive environment. The MRP offered one-on-one time with US experts, engaging in topics as product design, merchandising, US market trends, costing and pricing, and US buyer expectations.
Led by ATA trainers Lauren Barkume, Alex Bates, Stacy Spivak, and Annie Waterman, the three-day MRP covered design and product development, including design and business mentoring to develop a deeper understanding of market trends, production planning, and product pricing.
“We had a lot of fun with the participants, and everyone was excited to dig into the practical sessions, ” observes Lauren Barkume. The MRP training included product reviews that provided artisans feedback on product design, brand, color, trend, packaging, quality and export potential. “It was an interactive and lively process and the group developed camaraderie with each other. The common thread woven through all was a strong, independent and inspiring entrepreneurial spirit with pride in Tunisian craftsmanship” says Alex Bates.
The ATA team trained on how to create and use mood boards as a visual tool; either to help inspire new collections with current design trends or to shape their brand.
“The group was quite engaged in the mood board activity. It was a lot of fun and a positive competitive spirit was evident as they demonstrated strong ownership when presenting their concepts and ideas back to the group. In all, it was an inspiring few days” Alex Bates.
“This experience allowed us to work in groups with other craftspeople, to exchange our history, and even to collaborate and use other materials.” says artisan Khalil Slama.
“The MRP workshop was a great opportunity to understand the American consumer’s mentality, his reasoning, and his thoughts… I learned the means and tools that can attract the attention of the American buyer.” says fellow participant Khenissi Med Ali.
Under the guidance of Alex Bates, who is currently curating and developing a collection for NY NOW, two young designers and artisans are working together with a mix of traditional and modern design ideas in different mediums.
The NY NOW collection will include a range of materials and categories including ceramics, handwoven pillows, throws and rugs, classic foutas, olive wood, natural weaves in baskets and pendants, and hand-blown glass, and mosaic.
The look is handmade simplicity, the simple forms letting the material take center stage. “We will see elements of Tunisia’s rich heritage and artisanal traditions in the techniques, forms, and materials. It is a collection of products that have a shared point of view and play nicely together but come from a range of regions, traditions, and different artisan groups. A simple monochromatic palette and material mix will be the unifying thread” says Alex Bates.
This first-time opportunity is exciting for artisans testing the marketability of their crafts in the US and they are busy creating new product lines for the forthcoming show. With the upcoming NY NOW in August, followed by the winter Las Vegas Market, we wish Tunisian artisans the best in taking their crafts international.