Artisans deserve a glittering place in our economy

Artisans deserve a glittering place in our economy

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A statue of a rider on a horse waving two Hermes scarves at the group’s headquarters in Paris, France, March 20, 2014. (Reuters)

Artisans are creatives who veer between the epicurean and ethereal worlds, immersing us in a whimsical moment in time with their works. There is a particular magic to beholding a hand-crafted artisanal product; its quality, originality and imagination can be spellbinding to the sophisticated shopper. Artisans are arbiters of taste, charged with curating our lives with the most exquisite experiences, whether these be intoxicating perfumes, riveting paintings, chic fashion, glittering jewelry, delectable cuisines or dreamy gardens. Indeed, we cannot help but notice their effect on our senses.
Artisanal works are also a way of promoting and preserving culture in a most refined way. Museums around the world are a treasure trove of collections made by artisans throughout the centuries, giving us glimpses of bygone or immortalized civilizations. Everyday useful and beautiful items, such as china, embroidered tapestries, clothing, jewelry, clocks, paintings and statues, have preserved the heritage of those nations for eons.
Since such consumption is essential to our human existence, it is imperative that we support the artisan economy. This can be done early by introducing its history and value through educational curricula, thus piquing interest among curious children. Extracurricular activities can seek to introduce students to the beauty of artisanship, and build a repertoire of skills, values and refined taste needed to pursue such a career in the future.
Vocational programs are also much needed in later stages so that students build their competencies. Additionally, a solid knowledge of enterprise management is imperative to equip artisanal companies to deal with the harsh realities of this type of business, from seasonal sales to unreliable distribution channels and ephemeral customers. Public policies should also support artisanal shops through subsidies, microcredits and transformation to online commerce. The media can also shed light on the design and production processes of artisanal products. Interestingly, many artisanal companies have also started inviting customers to their ateliers to showcase the expertise that goes into producing their works.
Many companies pride themselves on the artisanal techniques used in their products. For example, Hermes, the French high fashion and luxury goods manufacturer, includes the motto “contemporary artisans since 1837” on its website. The company employs 5,200 artisans in France who are responsible for imparting artisanal skills to younger generations, including those with disabilities. A look at any iconic Hermes scarf is likely to strike admiration by the shopper. The collection of scarves is intensely colorful, full of whimsical illustrations depicting equestrian themes, botanical utopia, and carousels. Dreamed up by artists, the concept is then shared with a team of artisans that overlooks the entire production process, from observing the printing to dyeing and threading the seams. Similarly, popular Birkin handbags can take up to 40 hours to produce by an expert artisan.
Hermes also hires more than 200 craftspeople for its leather school every year. Their unique training methods focus on immersing apprentices through the power of the senses, observation and learning masterful techniques. Furthermore, the Fondation d’entreprise Hermes organizes a range of artisanal development programs, such as residencies that enable artists to work alongside Hermes craftspeople to hone their skills and expand their creativity, a school education program that introduces children to the artisanal world and its techniques, and a multidisciplinary professional training program.
In recent years, many private sector companies have stepped up to this skills gap by offering specialized in-house training programs to interested candidates in the hopes of preserving its centuries-old craftsmanship. Van Cleef & Arpels is a French company specializing in luxury jewelry and watch-making. Founded in 1906 at the glittering 22 Place Vendome square in Paris, the jewelry house is much adored for its fanciful details, often featuring butterflies, fairies and flowers in its gorgeous creations.
It also has a high regard for its century-old craftsmanship, and artisans are involved in designing pieces, sourcing precious stones, setting gems and many other intricate steps to produce any given piece. In 2012, Van Cleef & Arpels established the L'ecole, School of Jewelry Arts, positioned as the first school introducing the public to the art of jewelry-making, and celebrating the mysterious and aesthetic merit of artisanship. Currently, there are 23 courses on offer in its Paris branch covering a range of topics, such as art history of jewelry, basics of gemology, and a series of interactive workshops where students are coached on jewelry-making techniques. The classes are taught by gemologists, art historians, master jewelers and artistic craftspeople, and last between two and four hours.

Artisanal products touch us subliminally on a daily basis. They are a source of inspiration, mood-boosters and bundles of pleasures.

Sara Al-Mulla

Similarly, the luxury conglomerate LVMH established the LVMH Institut des Metiers d’Excellence in 2014 as a vocational training program to impart its unique and creative artisanship techniques to young generations. The company is at the vanguard of the fashion scene and prides itself on its unique craftsmanship, with notable brands such as Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Parfums Christian Dior and Chaumet in its portfolio. More than 900 apprentices have enrolled in the program, which lasts between six months and two years. Trainees work under master artisans within the company’s many exquisite luxury perfumery, cosmetics, watch, jewelry, fashion and leather goods brands to immerse with the brands’ spirit and hone their skills. For example, apprentices in the jewelry-making program attended a masterclass at Bulgari in Italy during which they visited its production workshops in Valenza and examined the high jewelry pieces at its atelier and gemology center in Rome. Additionally, students are also required to attend cultural exhibitions to spark their inspiration and work with artisans in other crafts to glean useful techniques.
Artisanal products touch us subliminally on a daily basis. They are a source of inspiration, mood-boosters and bundles of pleasures. As such, artisans deserve a glittering place in our economy in order to remain sustainable.

  • Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature. She can be contacted via www.amorelicious.com.
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