Craftsmanship: The Devil Is In The Detail

During our one year anniversary event on 8June 2013, we engaged 4 panelists on the art of craftsmanship, and why it is key to the success of your business.

Speakers on the panel included Aprelle Duany, CEO- Kiko Romeo, Robert Topping, Co-director and Design & Technical manager- Rift Valley Leather, Anthony Mulli, Founder- Katchy Kollections and Goodie Odhiambo, CEO- Goodies African Interiors and Gifts.

The discussion focused on why craftsmanship is such a slippery concept.
If paying attention to detail will earn you more money, and put you well on the path of brand success, why is it difficult to grasp and implement? Why are craftpreneurs continuously churning out mediocrity?
We compiled the discussion using our live Tweeter feed.

1. Process- lacking the patience for and understanding of it

Goodie Odhiambo – “Lot of people don’t understand the process to build a brand” #CA1Year #CraftAfrika
— Craft Afrika (@CraftAfrika) June 8, 2013

Quality and craftsmanship- the two elements essential to the creation of any brand. They both take time, research, energy and most important, process. Process assures consistency, a hallmark of quality. And yet not many people have the patience-nor the appreciation- for process.

2. The pain that is outsourcing

Robert Topping – “We have found there is resistance to following specifications when outsourcing” #CA1Year #CraftAfrika
— Craft Afrika (@CraftAfrika) June 8, 2013

It happens all the time. You get an order from your client to make a bag. You take it to your ‘fundi’ in Kibera with explicit instructions on what to do. You even include 3D sketches. But alas… the result is the stuff nightmares are made of.

3. Wrong tool for the right job- and the other way around. And not maintaining either

Robert Topping – “A sharp knife is safer than a blunt knife” Quality matters #CA1Year #craftafrika
— Craft Afrika (@CraftAfrika) June 8, 2013

The culture of maintenance is a rarity. Not unique to the workshop floor, lack of it is evident everywhere. Our roads, street lights, drainage systems, buildings-name it. We strive to build, buy and own, then quickly discard, leaving its care to mother nature.

4. Misrepresenting your customer

Aprelle Duany – “Identify your customers and know the quality they go for” #CA1Year #CraftAfrica
— Craft Afrika (@CraftAfrika) June 8, 2013

If you have identified a certain segment of the market as your desired customer base, have you understood whether craftsmanship is a priority to them? And are you able to meet this expectation?

5. Not valuing what you do

Goodie Odhiambo – “study the history of your products, make your customers understand why are doing what you do… know your product” #CA1Year
— Craft Afrika (@CraftAfrika) June 8, 2013

Too often we meet the ‘kazi ni kazi’ diehards- the kind that will do anything, entrepreneurs looking for a quick buck. Nothing wrong with it, except a lack of appreciation for design, process, quality and all those wonderful things that enhance the value of craft as a symbol of cultural heritage.

6. Supplies. Or the lack of them

Robert Topping – “would be great to see manufactures set up to make small metal parts in Kenya there is a market” #CA1Year #CraftAfrika
— Craft Afrika (@CraftAfrika) June 8, 2013

According to Robert Topping, Rift Valley Leather is unable to access quality zipper or buckle supplies locally. This is in fact a challenge faced by many a craftpreneur. Jacqui Resley of Spinners Web says that she cannot get her supplier to consistently deliver the same quality of clay for her ceramics. Patricia Nightingale’s biggest nightmare at Kenana Knitters is getting sufficient quantities of good quality wool year round.

What was apparent from this discussion was that while some of these challenges are manageable, some can get a little overwhelming, such as trying to control aspects of the supply chain. But for those that you can handle, where do you begin?

1. Be your toughest critic

Anythony Mulli – “Quality control begins with you” #CA1Year #CraftAfrika
— Craft Afrika (@CraftAfrika) June 8, 2013

If you set out to create an A-class product, then you cannot afford to cut any corners. Set high standards and meet them every time.  Designer Lena Hanzel once said that “each [of my] product[s] must fulfill my own personal expectations to the extent that it makes it hard to even sell.”

2. Choose your outsourcing partner carefully

Aprelle Duany – “do a lot of homework around the facility that you are going to outsource with – get samples, get referrals” #CA1Year
— Craft Afrika (@CraftAfrika) June 8, 2013

It may take time, but it is absolutely imperative to engage an outsourcing partner who has the same work ethic as you do. And when you do, put in place measures to safeguard consistent quality.

3. Do not take your customers for granted

Anthony Mulli – “customer loyalty is something we take for granted, we need to learn to appreciate the value” #CA1Year #CraftAfrika
— Craft Afrika (@CraftAfrika) June 8, 2013

Constantly study your customer and strive to meet their demand for quality. And don’t be tempted to be like the fellow they speak of in this proverb – mgema akisifiwa tembo hulitia maji [if the palm tapper is praised, he dilutes the palm wine with water].

4. Purpose to build a brand. Then do whatever it takes

Goodie Odhiambo – “We won’t sell copied products because quality counts, branding counts” #CA1Year #CraftAfrika
— Craft Afrika (@CraftAfrika) June 8, 2013

Lack of exposure (research) leads to what i like to call ‘nakala mania’ loosely translated to mean serial copy cat. Negate research and face serious challenges coming up with original design concepts. And if as a result you find yourself tempted to copy, say, a Rift Valley Leather bag, Robert Topping suggests that you must make sure you have the means (quality raw materials, proper tools, level of skill) to do so. Only then will he consider it sincere flattery.

5. Yes, there is value in what you do!

Aprelle Duany – “Don’t work for free, value what you do, don’t release a sketch, idea until there is an agreement in place” #CA1Year
— Craft Afrika (@CraftAfrika) June 8, 2013

How many times have you been asked if your craft enterprise is your only source of income? While it may or may not be, this is the one conversation you must never engage in. Let your craftsmanship [and the resulting profits] speak on your behalf.

  What was apparent during the discussion was that there are no shortcuts- craftsmanship is what will separate you from the rest, the one thing that will allow you to charge a premium for your product.

For purposes of this compilation, we dug into our archives and found two conversations we have had with Ben Handa, CEO-Woodley Weavers and Jacqui Resley, CEO- Spinners Web Kenya. We had asked them what their secrets to success were. The first answer is by Ben Handa, the second by Jacqui Resley.

#quality of product is everything to us. #CEIP2013
— Craft Afrika (@CraftAfrika) January 25, 2013

She lists her top 3 secrets for success in this sector as quality, quality and more quality. #CEIP2013
— Craft Afrika (@CraftAfrika) February 16, 2013

Six experienced craftpreneurs, one recurring answer to a successful enterprise. Craftsmanship.

 Curated for Craft Afrika by Christine Gitau| June 2013