The Tunisian American Young Professionals (TAYP) commits to the expansion and scale-up of the pilot Handicrafts Program, to address key issues facing Tunisian artisans in the present climate. During the pilot program, TAYP was able to sharpen the marketing and management skills of over 31 artisans. The pilot project also led to the creation of 20 new jobs and significant sales; one trade show led to backorder sales of more than $350,000.
Using the pilot program as a springboard, TAYP will continue to cultivate sustainable business relationships between 30 artisans and potential buyers. This commitment will also allow TAYP to address one of the biggest takeaways from the project: that the prohibitive cost of shipping weakens artisans abilities to effectively penetrate a global market.
First, TAYP will strengthen the capacities of a collection center in Tunis to collect, package, and label products for international consumers. Furthermore, TAYP will utilize a fulfillment center in Memphis (Tennessee), allowing it to reach out and cement partnerships with a larger number of wholesalers, fair trade buyers, and e-commerce and online retailers, through a hybrid indirect-direct selling option. To strengthen commercial ties between the United States and Tunisia further, TAYP will promote participation at trade shows in both countries, to establish long-term business ties and solidify professional partnerships. TAYP will work with artisans designing and creating a broad scope of craft products, ensuring that American buyers are offered a diverse set of goods.
At the conclusion of the pilot program, many US buyers expressed interest in continuing to work with Tunisian artisans over the long-term. This will be made easier through a more cost-effective shipping system that will allow for more effective exportation of Tunisian handicrafts. TAYP is confident that it can generate an increase in export sales by 25%, addressing the demand generated during the pilot program. Ultimately, this project will support, sustain, and expand employment opportunities, and create a set of best practices to strengthen the Tunisian artisanal sector, a significant first step in strengthening the overall health of the Tunisian economy.
Many artisans in Tunisia are women who have used their craft to manage a household and supplement a family income. With the scale up of the handicrafts program, women will have the opportunity to move from the informal, local economy to the formal economy. Not only will they be supported as they develop their businesses, but they will enter the formal economy and become stronger economic actors, thereby proving them with greater purchasing power, financial independence, and opportunities for expansion.
TAYP will work with its partners and other local supporters to raise awareness about the commitment by conducting strategic outreach initiatives to women-focused non-governmental organizations to maximize the participation of female artisans.
The development of a collection center and the use of a receiving and distribution center, allowing for the growth of sustainable business ties between Tunisian artisans and US retailers, will take place over one year and in four phases:
Phase One: Collection Center Capacity Building (January-February)
TAYP will present the project outline to artisans it has worked with in the past, non-governmental organizations (including women-focused associations), and government officials in order to reach the maximum number of artisans. TAYP will enter into agreements with 30 artisans who are interested in exporting their products. TAYP will select 10 artisans from each region and will also establish 6 cooperatives (2 in the northern, 2 in the southern, and 2 in the central region), which will allow TAYP to reach artisans with a variety of backgrounds and business experience. TAYP will then hire a manager for the collection center and train him or her in quality control, develop a set of collection standards, and create a streamlined process to enable the collection center to become sustainable.
Phase Two: Promotion of Exchanges and Participation in Handicraft Fairs (February-August)
TAYP will present at the Annual International Handicrafts Show in Tunis in April 2016. It will attend trade shows that will take place the first week of February 2016 and the second week of August in New York City. This exchange will be an opportunity to showcase products, develop partnerships, and reinforce business ties. These trade shows will allow the artisans to hire more other artisans in order to meet the expected increase in demand for handicraft products, thereby growing the community of artisans able to effectively engage with an international market.
Phase Three: Utilizing a Receiving and Distribution Facility in the United States (March-November 2016)
TAYP will coordinate with the collection unit in Tunisia and buyers in the US to receive and process orders through wholesalers, e-commerce and online retailers, and fair trade buyers at a collection center located in Memphis, Tennessee. TAYP will rent a portion of the warehouse and establish its base of operations there, with an individual specifically overseeing TAYPs distribution operations. TAYP aims to engage at least 25 new businesses throughout the project, and utilize the contacts made at the trade shows to solidify business partnerships. By the end of phase three, TAYP aims to generate a 25% increase in export revenue and create at least 21 new positions in the handicraft sector, 75% of which is targeted to be for women.
Phase Four: Consolidation of Data and Evaluate the Project (December)
At the end of the program, TAYP will create a directory of the artisans and retailers it works with. In addition, TAYP will evaluate its commitment and determine the next steps for supporting Tunisian artisans.
Historically, Tunisias economic growth has been sustained by the service industry, especially the tourism and handicraft production sectors. Roughly 20% of the Tunisian population is supported directly or indirectly from the tourism industry (Inter Press Services). In addition, the handicraft sector (including carpets, ceramics, pottery, and jewelry) represents 4% of Tunisias national gross domestic product (National Office for Tunisian Handicrafts). Tunisias rich cultural tradition, especially around textiles, ceramics, essential oils, and other handmade products, has attracted consumers from around the world. These traditions have provided sustainable livelihoods for communities around the country and have been a boon for women and young people, who have established their own businesses around their craft. Specifically, many artisans in Tunisia are women who have used their craft to manage a household and/or supplement a family income. According to the National Office for Tunisian Handicrafts, 85% of Tunisian craftspeople are women. In addition, handicrafts provide not only a space for women to participate in the economic sector, but also an activity to socialize with their neighbors. Through their participation, women have become empowered and transformed into local business leaders, carrying on a tradition that has become increasingly threatened in recent years. Following the 2011 Revolution, which sparked fears of instability and security concerns, in conjunction with the slowdown of the European economy, the Tunisian economy has struggled to rebound and recoup its losses from a decrease in touristic activity. With a limited market, many artisans have sought employment opportunities in other sectors, while other artisans work have been threatened by the influx of foreign counterfeit, albeit cheaper, products to sell to tourists and within local markets. Many women especially are losing a primary source of income, and weakening their ability to financially contribute to their households and be economically self-sufficient. The handicraft sectors reliance on in-country tourism has forced artisans to counter these new economic realities. In order to sustain profits and expand their businesses, artisans need to penetrate untapped markets, including the United States. While many artisans have adapted and gained the necessary skills to market their products effectively to an audience in the United States, these artisans still face challenges, in particular high costs, especially shipping, due to the absence of an efficient supply chain export mechanism. As long as innovative shipping solutions are not implemented, the majority of Tunisian artisans lose valuable market entry opportunities that can restructure the handicraft market and provide opportunities for countless producers and merchants.