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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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.
Curated for Craft Afrika by Christine Gitau| June 2013