Crafts, the Scalability Dilemma
The Riddle of a Chinese Merchant in Isfahan
More than half a century ago, two American economists proved that the rising cost of art was the byproduct of what they called the "cost disease." In other words, the lower capacity of the arts to exploit technology leads to lower productivity; furthermore, because those involved have to use more workforce and face rising wages, the cost of producing a work of art increases. With an increase in the price of a product or service comes a decrease in its demand, and accordingly artists’ businesses earn less out of selling their products.
One of the most crucial features of handicrafts, shared with other creative industries, is the rather high fixed cost and the low marginal cost. In other words, the production of the "first" product is expensive; however, it costs considerably lower to produce another one of the same product. Therefore, the profit margin in such industries is high, and that is why the more products artisans produce and sell, the higher their profit margin will be. So, it makes sense for artisans to make their businesses scalable.
At first glance, through modification of the cost disease and applying technology, crafts will be closer to the industry and have higher capacity for production when compared to other creative industries; therefore, we may think that craft businesses have the comparative advantage of becoming scalable and growing faster than other businesses because of the lower marginal cost. But, is this feasible?
Since crafts are still dependent on artisans personal work trying to maintain the “artistic” aspect in many cases, they suffer from the cost disease to some extent. Moreover, if we define scalability as an increase the number of customers, more profitability without increasing capital, and a small increase in the cost/profit ratio, and consider the field experience as well, then we can conclude that Iranian craft businesses have not been able to become scalable because if they scale up, the additional costs and the use of more artisans will limit their profit. This is why craft businesses have found their own reasonable scale through trial and error and do not scale up.
An Isfahani artist says around seven years ago, an Iranian-Chinese businessman wanted to buy nine hundred thousand pieces of a Khatam artwork at its retail market price, but none of the craftspeople accepted his order, because they could not provide the sufficient human resources around, even if they could, their production cost would even go beyond the total contract price. In other words, higher production would lead to higher expenses rather than higher profit. This shows that the scalability of crafts is more difficult than it seems at first glance.
Cultural Economist and Director of CACIMA, Center for Cultural and Creative Industries
Creating New Value Propositions and Adjusting the Existing Ones
Approaches for the Admission of Handicrafts into Global Markets
About thirteen years ago, my brother and I came to China with our families. First for further education, then for business and life. One of our biggest concerns has always been defining Iranian identity for ourselves and our families, and introducing it to friends and Chinese society. Most of our time and volume activities during these thirteen years have been related to handicrafts, carpets, and other Iranian cultural products, and a large part of our credibility and identity among artists or Chinese society is related to these issues. But handicrafts and carpets are still a small part of our company's revenue. That is why I have to ask myself questions that we might have to ask ourselves before entering any business.
What products are suitable for the global handicraft market? Does welcoming foreign tourists to local handicraft markets in Iran mean welcoming the same products in foreign markets? What is the way to adapt a handicraft to enter global markets, and turn it into a big business? Our years of experience in the Chinese market have clearly shown us that there are many obstacles to selling any country's handicrafts in new markets, and I will mention only one important point here, and that is recognizing values. Audiences buy goods based on their values. These values include a very wide range of functional values, aesthetic values, symbolic values, and etc. The industrial designers’ job is to identify the values desired by the audience and create those values in new products.
For example, by considering the audiences’ lifestyle , we will find what this audience requires or desires as functions of a product and provide appropriate answers to those needs. Responding to the functional requirements of products may not seem so complicated, but correct identification of the requirements needs a great deal of knowledge and experience. For example, the value of a handicraft product for a tourist who eagerly buys it when visiting a tourist destination is more of a symbolic value, and a reminder of the joys and memories of the trip.
Just as we may bring a piece of rock as a memento when climbing a high peak, while in everyday life we never notice such boulders on the side of the road. handicrafts Customers also do not see such a performance for imported handicrafts in their country's market, so they pay more attention to goods with certain functions for them. Products with a purely ornamental or so-called decorative function will have less chance of attracting customers' attention.
On the other hand, designing handicraft products requires a different approach in designing new products and artifacts. All the components of a handicraft product, including materials, manufacturing methods, form and shape, and details and decorations, all have their own symbolic values and identity the violation of which can change the identity of the product. In this situation, in addition to creating new values, the common values in the cultures of origin and destination must be sought among the products.
Different societies have common and non-common values, and entering the market of any country requires accurate identification of the destination market values, and finding common points between the countries of origin and destination. For example, the rich and ancient Iranian culture has common points with neighboring countries and Muslim countries (such as calligraphy or religious beliefs), and also has common points with ancient countries such as China and Japan (including common myths or historical ties). Choosing the products that are most in line with the target market values increases their chances of success.
Collaboration of industrial designers with handicraft artists and craftsmen, in order to find common values on the one hand, and create new functional values in handicraft products on the other hand, can create very positive results. On the one hand, it provides an endless source of inspiration and infinite treasure of valuable traditional patterns for industrial designers, and on the other hand, it leads to the creation of products that are more practical, best-selling, and compatible to the needs of the target community, for artists and craftsmen. I hope we can address this issue with more precise elaboration later.
Dr. Majid Shamaeizadeh, Co-founder Of Gemini Global And Persian Treasure Brand
Art for Conservation
Handicrafts for saving Endangered Species
Women’s empowerment through their indigenous arts to participate in sustainable tourism is pioneering. The “Art for Conservation” Project is one of the first projects with mentioned
description in Iran to be founded by rural women with the support
of Global Environmental Facility (GEF) small grants programme
and UNDP and the Qeshm Free Area Organization. The project
sought to bring employment and increase self-confidence in
rural women, who learned their original arts from their mothers,
relying on their capabilities and talents. This experience began
in 2007 in the villages of Shib Deraz and Borka Khalaf on Qeshm
Island, with the purpose of protecting the environment and the
region’s culture, which has played an important role in promoting
this idea in other villages of the island. The women of these two
villages produce their authentic handicrafts in a practical way
that can be offered to tourists, and for this purpose, they have
established a shop to market these handicrafts. Counting on
the indigenous skills of rural communities can create a suitable
and secure basis for economic growth and environmental protection. It also leads to their reconciliation with cultural values
and communication between generations, and strengthens
their self-confidence and communication skills. The empowered
women of these villages have come to believe that tourists travel
to these villages due to the island’s environmental significance,
therefore they have an opportunity to increase employment
rates, interact with new friends and exchange information and
participate in social activities.
Village women embroider the image of endangered species of
black lip oysters and hawksbill sea turtles using Golabetoon
Douzi on their products, including bags, scarves, shawls, etc.,
in order to always remind tourists that while relying on their
indigenous arts, they actually Introduce their treasured culture.
They have also participated in women’s educational activities in
other villages and other projects, including the Qeshm Island
Global Geopark project. During the implementation of this
project and in interaction with various people, the importance
of teamwork and participation is further strengthened and
their motivation to continue their education and participate
in social arenas increases.
This path had its own ups and downs. Gradually, customer tastes
and users from different regions influenced the products, and
some manufacturers agreed to sacrifice originality for the
customer’s needs. Tourists’ bargaining and lack of attention to
the indigenous arts’ true value bothered the original producers
and reduced their motivation. Thus, the difference between
these products and other handicrafts that are produced only
for wealth and fame remained hidden.
After examining these challenges, we progressively came up
with solutions with the help of local producers and consultants and we slowly untied the knots. Now, 15 years after this
experience, the producers have been equipped with problem
solving abilities and, in the words of the great Ferdowsi, have
been brazen-bodied-impenetrable to weapons- or invulnerable
in order to cope with the challenges that arise at any moment.
Each region’s level of participation in empowerment projects
varies according to the cultural background and the host community’s level of acceptance . Experience has shown that women
in areas that are better off in terms of climate and natural resources, usually have incentives beyond economics. Discovering
women’s inner motivations is one of the most important aspects
of such projects, which differ from region to region and even
from person to person. There are several barriers for women
interested in participating in this type of activity. Facilitators in
these types of projects extenuate these barriers and highlight
their strengths so that this social, economic and cultural activity
gradually finds its place in the small rural community
What is important is the balanced growth of the group, building
trust and attention to all members and creating empathy among
them. All members must believe that individuals’ success is equal
to the success of the whole group and that a successful group
needs each of its members. This belief will not be achieved in the
short term projects that do not have the right infrastructure.
Usually, these kinds of valued activities root and settle in the
area over time. In this way, different steps reinforce each other
and the probability of projects’ sustainability increases.
Motifs, Symbols, Myths
Collective Memory of a Nation
When the collective dream of a group of people living in a land or culture is stipulated and a relatively long time has passed, it alters into a current that is continuing its life. Sometimes things are subtracted or added to, or sometimes they are completely transformed into something else. After a while, it slowly becomes one of the main and fundamental components of that culture’s integrity. Motifs and symbols are more of a tool for expressing beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and whatever people want to share, using a motif or symbol that remains like a mental structure on which we can build and shape the culture. The symbol or motif with the element of repetition forms the structure and puts it in its place.
The motif and the symbol gradually advance their meaning with the help of a concept called nostalgia. Motifs have some sort of a dual state between myths and symbols, symbols have more visual aspects than motifs and respectively, motifs have more than myths. We have been debating for years whether we should imagine and think about myths or not. Many believe that this should not happen and should not be portrayed at all, while many believe that if we do not do this, they will not be known and seen and eventually be neglected. The reason for the second group is that since a myth, a motif, or a symbol is recorded and written in a form of a story or a film and develops a general and universal explanation, we come to a word called the death of a myth, perhaps, in other words, the death of a motif, death of a symbol. That is, it can not go further than that.
A large part of the motifs we know and believe in are motifs that are natural and related to nature. Nature always exists, proceeds, and is constant. On the other hand, many of the myths and motifs that have been recorded, no matter how distorted, are kept through an ancient fixed source and continue to live. I'm not too worried about distorting motifs, myths, or even symbols. In my opinion, one of the main problems we are facing today is people’s incomplete understanding of the concept of the universe and its concepts. From nature to creation to the concept of God, religion, or even our definition of art and beauty. Another contemporary concern is the question of the applicability of symbols and motifs. In my opinion, this is a temporary period that must pass, and we have inevitably fallen into it and we should not forget that human beings have lived along with those motifs for thousands of years. I believe that people will go through this period and reach a state of peace. At that time, myths, motifs, and all these took on a more interesting form.
The essence of motifs, symbols, and myths does not need to convey something precisely. We must let this lively and dynamic flow transfer, from one generation to another, art to art, look to look, period by period, and continue its life. We also have a duty not to forget some of the lessons we have learned. For example, one of the problems of the twentieth century, which has been relatively corrected in the twenty-first century, was that societies sought to unify cultures. But now we have learned that this is not right and that we should respect the cultures and ecosystems, record them, and also allow each ethnic group to keep what has been developed through being in contact with surroundings and its cultural history. Then, let's slowly allow cultural fusion to take place on a smaller scale as well. For example, Iranian music or myths in some places put themselves together with Indian myths.