West Elm blends a passion for global craft cultures and traditional techniques with a commitment to building profitable businesses. That commitment involves creating economic opportunities for artisans locally and globally to improve livelihoods, support craft communities, empower women through business and preserve craft traditions.
Through 2015, West Elm commits $35 million in purchase order financing paid directly to artisans who utilize handcraft techniques, up from $25 million in 2013.
West Elm will collaborate with over 20 artisan groups in 15 countries, growing its existing network by 4 countries (Mali, Peru, Nicaragua and Colombia) and increasing its percentage of artisan production in Haiti, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, India and the USA. West Elm is making long-term (3 to 5 year) commitments to each of these artisan manufacturers. Working closely with them, West Elm will grow these artisans' businesses while maintaining and preserving the handcraft techniques at the center of their work.
Leveraging its partnerships with existing artisan businesses as well as artisan support organizations including Craftmark, Craftlink and the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise, West Elm will build and coordinate a network of people working within the artisan sector. As the brand expands internationally into new markets in Australia, Europe and the Middle East this year alone, West Elm's growing global expansion provides the opportunity to connect artisan crafts with new customers and markets.
West Elm will also help to create and pilot a model for a global third-party handcrafted certification, designed to validate handcrafted product and grow the demand for artisan-made goods. Partners currently involved in a potential pilot program include Craftmark, Craftlink and Fair Trade.
West Elm will work with artisans in over 15 countries, and its objectives and timelines will vary from country to country. Highlights of the commitment are included below.
HAITI: Improve working conditions of artisans in the craft sector, beginning with partners at Caribbean Craft. Within 6 months, West Elm will work with Caribbean Craft to determine specific objectives around working conditions and will implement those improvements within 18 months. Timeline: 6-18 months.
INDIA: Partner with Craftmark, an artisan certification organization in India, on artisan design and production training, and on a potential global certification system. Timeline: 6 months. Partner with BCI (Better Cotton Initiative) to use BCI-certified cotton for artisan-made textiles. BCI improves the health of cotton producers and trains them in best practices for cotton harvesting. Timeline: 6-24 months.
NEPAL: Grow existing business with Everest, an artisan felt-making cooperative, by introducing them to a potential cross-brand expansion through a partnership with Pottery Barn. Timeline: 6-24 months.
NICARAGUA & PERU: Begin sourcing ceramics from Nicaraguan and Peruvian artisans, growing West Elm's craft network in each country by 2-3 artisan groups (4-6 total). Timeline: 6-18 months.
SENEGAL & MALI: Improve working conditions of artisans in the craft sector, beginning with West Elm's artisan partners at Swahili in Senegal and artisan textile-makers in Mali. Within 6 months, West Elm will work with Swahili and Mali textile artisans to determine specific objectives around working conditions, and will implement those improvements within 18 months. Timeline: 6-18 months.
VIETNAM: Bring Craftlink, an artisan certification organization in Vietnam, into the work West Elm has already begun on a potential global certification system. Timeline: 6-12 months.
USA: Introduce regionally sourced artisan assortments into each of West Elm's 50+ American stores, partnering with Etsy, individual makers, small businesses and organizations to feature local artists in each location. Timeline: 24 months.
Hundreds of thousands of people around the world, largely women, participate in the artisan sector. Behind agriculture, artisan activity is the second largest employer in the developing world, often the primary means of income.' (US Department of State & Aspen Institute, Launch of the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise, November 2012)
Across the developing world, artisan production provides jobs, supports families and communities and helps to preserve cultural heritage. For example, at a small, family-owned block-printing workshop that West Elm works with in Jaipur, it takes seven craftspeople to make one hand-blocked quilt: one hand-carver to make the block, two hand-block printers to create the pattern and four women to hand-stitch the quilt. If the owner of that workshop were to transfer his production from traditional block-printing to machine-made quilts, he would require just two people: one to run the printing machine and one to operate the stitching machine. Over 70% of the employees in this factory would lose their jobs.
Demand for cheaper labor costs and faster production times threaten artisan handcrafts in developing countries around the world. Without large-scale investment from companies like West Elm, traditional techniques like hand-carving, hand-block printing and hand-stitching will be lost, and thousands of skilled workers will lose their jobs.