Artistri Sud is very happy to announce that starting this Giving Tuesday on November 27th, we are launching a new sponsorship program: the Sponsor-a-Trainee donation program, which we hope will be an even more meaningful and fun way to give! We have identified some women from our pool of upcoming Vietnam participants, and will share their photo and some background information in the weeks to come via Facebook.
As you know, Artistri Sud helps artisan women in dire financial need who have the potential to improve their entrepreneurial skills. This year, the women enrolled in the Vietnam program belong to various ethnic minorities, come from three different regions of Northern Vietnam, and mostly speak their own language, Hmong.
Bau, artisan of Northern Vietnam.
The women we are helping in Northern Vietnam are artisans that weave fabrics made of hemp, use natural dyes, adorn the fabric with techniques such as batik, embroider with silk threads, and with these textiles, sew clothing, accessories, and housewares.
These women sell their products through a variety of informal means. One strategy involves “following” –a group of women wait for the buses to arrive from Hanoi or other urban areas, carrying tourists. From the parking lot, looking into the bus windows, the women call out which passengers they will approach, ‘claiming’ them. Once passengers disembark, each seller approaches their ‘claimed’ passenger, and follows them around the town, insisting they buy something from them: sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Another approach is to hang around hotel entrances in nearby towns, waiting for tourists to exit; sometimes hotel staff shoo them away. Others “hawk” their products on the street by laying a sheet of plastic on the ground in high-tourist traffic areas in or near the centre of the town, where they display their products and solicit tourists who walk by. The police look the other way but only on weekends –week nights and day times are off-limits. And there is a seniority system in place: not all women can do this, and as long as all the current ones keep their places, new ones do not have access.
Some of the women enrolled in our program also belong to local cooperative associations that enable them to combine efforts in order to market and sell their products in greater volumes. These cooperatives usually make decisions by voting and key members often put in extra hours to run the cooperative’s operations. The benefits of a cooperative is to better standardize the quality of the products, approach potential customers and buying groups with larger volumes, and sometimes, offer a storefront in which to sell their members’ products. As with most organizations, a cooperative is only as strong as the people who comprise its membership: a cooperative can vary widely in scope and success. One of the cooperatives that our participants belong to is the Lung Tam Textile cooperative, founded in 1999, at a time when the Vietnam government was promoting the cooperative movement. Since then, many cooperatives have not survived, but Lung Tam made it through two near-bankruptcies, thanks to the dedication of its members and especially its founder, Mrs. Mai.
An interesting story: in the early days of the cooperative, five women, including Mrs. Mai, were looking into the possibility of devoting some of their land to a larger crop, and they did an analysis to see whether hemp or corn would be the more profitable crop. They found hemp to be many times more profitable –once they turned it into fabric. Over the years, they began to make finished products, and now have a membership of 130 people. They are starting to see a small rise in sales, but there is still a lot of hardship and uncertainty. Another cooperative for our participants is from a small town close to the border, Sa Phin. This is a new coop, founded almost two years ago, founded to help maintain local cultural traditions, and all the women members are relatively new to the trade. They have a long way to go before earning a steady revenue stream.