Fetzer Institute, HAND/EYE Magazine Showcase Compassion, Creativity in Global Artisan Crafts Movement

September 14, 2012

Kalamazoo, MI, Sept. 19, 2012— The return to artisan-made crafts is creating a positive shift in the world one lovingly made object at a time. From building local economies and reinvigorating centuries-old trades to preserving the environment and providing unique and useful items, artisans are influencing the way we think about craft.

Stories of artisans around the globe—and the change their craft is forging in and outside their communities—are documented in the Winter 2012 issue of HAND/EYE, an independent, international publication exploring the nexus between design and development, culture and commerce, art and craft, and environment and ethics.

“Every story has a special spark,” magazine founder and editor Keith Recker said. “And in some cases, the circumstances they need to overcome are so dire. In other cases, it’s the deep cultural creativity.”

Focusing on the theme of “craft and compassion” the winter issue was conceived by the Fetzer Advisory Council on Labor, Trades, and Crafts. The group, formed in early 2011, worked to locate love in action within the world of craft. This issue, their own labor of love, finds ample evidence of compassion in the artisanal world both in the stories behind the people and businesses and in the very act of making. The winter issue is being released this week, as Fetzer hosts a global gathering focused on love and compassion in all areas of human endeavor.

Woven Dreams profiles activist and designer Edric Ong. He has channeled textile, fashion and craft into life-improving results for the Iban people of Malaysia. Ong, along with collaborator Bangie anak Embol, created a cooperative that contributes financially to 35 families as well as preserving Iban cultural heritage, and promoting their exquisite weaving and sustainable natural dyes.

In To Dye for Change, we meet Boubacar Doumbia who founded and manages what many consider one of the most successful social enterprises in Mali. Doumbia's business, Ndomo, pulled disenfranchised youth into the workshop to train them in the Malian textile dyeing tradition of bogolanfini (mudcloth) to help them earn a sustainable income. A unique feature of the program encourages the trainees to save their earnings. They are given a goal to meet by the end of the year, and if they don't meet their goal, peer pressure pushes them to save for the future.

 “These projects are unique and truly exemplary,” noted Fetzer Institute Program Officer Angela Graham, who worked with the council and Hand Eye in bringing the issue to fruition. “To find these artisans and share their stories is a real privilege.”

“My subversive reason for doing this is retail can change the world,” Recker said of why he started Hand Eye in 2009. “If we target our consumption to world-changing goals, we can do that much more good.”

Kavita Parmar’s IOU Project is one of 26 stories told in the magazine. Just over a year old, IOU Project is redefining the relationship between artisans and consumers by providing deeper insight into the production process.

“I think for the first time, we have the tools as individuals to empower ourselves and each other,” said Parmar, a designer by trade. “Why shouldn’t an artisan have more value than a big box retailer? Maybe 15 years ago they traveled far and wide to bring a product to the consumer. But that’s not the case today.”

The antithesis of fast fashion, IOU Project offers one-of-a-kind designs made from madras fabric hand woven in India. No machines. No replicas. Each garment is tagged with a QR code that, when scanned, introduces purchasers to the farmers, weavers, dyers, and tailors who crafted it. Products are sold online and through special trunk shows.

IOU Project has sold 35,000 items globally. Despite limited marketing dollars—it has none—it has started conversations about responsible consumption in the media, and with organizations, retailers and consumers globally. With 500,000 hits on blogs internationally, word of the IOU Project is spreading.

“All because people have talked about it, shared it,” Parmar said. “We want to share what we’ve done. How can we apply this to artisans worldwide? The world is full of incredible, authentic products.”

The Fetzer Institute is a private operating foundation based in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Established by broadcast pioneer John E. Fetzer (1901-1991), the Institute works with an international team of advisors to create programs that foster awareness of the power that love and forgiveness can have in our world.

HAND/EYE is an independent, international publication which explores the nexus between design and development, culture and commerce, art and craft, and environment and ethics. HAND/EYE's goal is to engender intelligent debate among artisans, exporters, designers, artists, wholesalers and importers, retailers, and consumers so that all may make smart, ethical, and inspired decisions about their activities. Proceeds from sales of HAND/EYE will be divided among several non-profit agencies working to address artisan issues.