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Sep 8, 2020

The Art of Exploring Artisan Culture Through International Travel

There’s no secret that we’re all itching to hop on a plane and adventure to a foreign land after almost a year at home. But before we start planning trips for 2021, this may be the perfect time to reconsider the way we travel. Many try to support local communities when they travel. But, what exactly does supporting local mean? It could mean staying in a locally owned bed and breakfast or taking a guided tour from a local. Yet, one of the best ways to support local is visiting artisan cooperatives that may be off the tourist path. These artisan communities are the heart and soul of many places. They are the groups that preserve the rich culture and history of their ancestors alive through art.

So, I urge you to seek out these experiences when you travel. You will undoubtedly feel more connected to the destination and its people. Furthermore, you’ll discover the true heart and soul of the city that you may have otherwise missed. The impact of visiting these communities runs deeper than many realize. When you visit you’re supporting artisans, mostly women, across the globe.

The Global Artisan Economy

Many people aren’t aware of the huge global economic impact made by artisan communities.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development the global artisan market makes around $34 billion a year. Furthermore, in the developing world artisans are the second-largest employer right after agriculture. A perfect representation of this is the community we work with in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico. The area is so rooted in their trade that over 70% of the city participates in the local weaving industry in some way. That means over half the town makes their living off of the production of these textiles. This is the case in many communities in the developing world. It’s a tradition that we hope continues because it truly makes the world a more beautiful place.

Social & Cultural Impact 

Artisan cooperatives are a lifeline for many people across the globe, making them one of the best ways to preserve culture and tradition. The art these communities create stems back multiple generations. It’s the same work their ancestors made hundreds or thousands of years before them. The art adorns designs that hold deep meaning and symbolism, allowing their culture to live on for years to come. For example, Mexican textiles today gain inspiration from ancient Zapotec designs.

Artisan cooperatives employ locals only. They provide them with a safe working environment and a sustainable living wage. In most cases, they will even teach them the historic craft they’re creating. In short, they provide opportunity. The opportunity to exercise creative liberty and share incredible art with the world. The chance to do something they love every single day while supporting their families. Artisan cooperatives are an economic driver in every community that has one. The cooperatives also give opportunity to rise above from difficult situations.

Aissata, a Malian textile artisan, is a perfect example. Assiata’s mother was a seamstress where they lived. At 8-years-old she taught Assiata everything there was to know about her trade. From hand-spinning threads to how to create the rich indigo dye from local plants, to dying the thread – she learned it all. Assiata developed her skills for years. Eventually, she left a career in accounting to follow her passion for textile weaving. She founded an artisan cooperative with the goal of educating other women in the craft. Assiata wanted to empower the artisans and give them an opportunity to make a sustainable living. Now, she not only employs local women, she also educates hundreds throughout the region. She ensures that future generations will never lose these traditional textile-making skills.

This is a common occurrence in the artisan community. It provides inspiration and opportunity for those in developing countries across the globe.

Mexican Artisan

Keeping Artisan Craft Alive & Thriving

When traveling internationally, tourist-focused artisan markets are a huge draw for many. Finding items to take home to remember your trip or gift to family is always a highlight for travelers. While these tourist markets can absolutely support the local economy, that isn’t always the case. You will also find vendors who are selling cheap imported goods. This is where your ethical shopping practices can make the most impact on local artisans!

Our tips? Ask all the questions! At times language will be a barrier, but try a translator app to assist with communication. Ask them how they made the pieces and the story behind the design. A true artisan or artisan partner, will have the answer to these questions. Go with your gut. A lot of times you’ll be able to tell the difference between a true artisan and just a vendor selling imported goods. The best part about asking all those questions is not only the incredible piece you get to take home with you, but the connection you make! You’ll often learn about their families, their background, and they’ll want to hear more about your story as well.

These simple conversations can lead to greater cultural understanding across the globe.

Gathering Inspiration from Artisan Communities

Daily artisans mix old with new, sparking a revolution. They’re using trades historically used for survival to drive a multi-billion-dollar global industry.

A recent piece by Fortune magazine praised the innovation that these groups have been demonstrating for years. The article noted how the artisan communities are an inspiration for the way we work moving forward, post-COVID-19. Many of the families and cooperatives have a small studio found in town. Located no more than a few houses down so women can come and go to create their wares without the need for transportation or travel. Yet, many also have shops set up right in their home!

We have been welcomed into countless family homes while designing our Wanderluxe Home collection. Meeting families and learning about the stories and traditions are always the best part of our visits. The artisans we work with are truly the original pioneers of work-from-home!

Mexican Artisan

How to Find Artisan Communities & Cooperatives While Travel Planning

When planning your next trip, finding authentic artisan communities and co-ops is easier than you may think. The first step? Google it! Search for artisan cooperatives in the city you’re staying. Also, you can narrow your search by adding what type of cooperative you’re looking for. For example, search for “weaving cooperatives in Oaxaca, Mexico” or “day trips to artisan cooperatives in Oaxaca, Mexico”. Sometimes you’ll find the exact location that you can visit. In addition to the locations, you may also find ethical local tour companies like Tia Stephanie Tours or Oaxaca Experience Tours. These tour companies will take you to meet the artisans and learn their trade. Most importantly, you will gain the opportunity to support the artisans by purchasing direct. Many times your hotels can also connect you with the correct companies that provide ethical tours to these communities.
Another tip is search sites like Airbnb. You can check out their local-led experiences where natives or knowledgeable expats living in the city share their knowledge and love for their country with visitors. Guides always have incredible tips on where to find artisans to support. And of course all the best local spots to eat when you’ve worked up an appetite from shopping!

Wanderluxe Home’s Commitment

As always, at Wanderluxe Home we will remain true to our commitment to bring to you ethically sourced homewares. Our artisan network includes cooperatives, family-run workshops, and independent designers. They share our values of preserving tradition, impeccable quality, and human connection.

Many of these artisan communities depend on tourism and partnerships with organizations like Wanderluxe Home to make their living. They depend on the distribution and sales of their products, which means COVID-19 has hit these communities hard. From the conversations we’ve had with our partners we know these communities are resilient and will recover. But, it’s more important than ever to be cognizant of the way we travel and support them via purchasing online!

We’re excited to soon be launching our Fall 2020 Artisan Box! The carefully curated box will hold intricate, handcrafted pieces that tell incredible stories. 

Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know when it launches!

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Modern luxury, thoughtfully designed for the well-traveled home. 

Wanderluxe Home is a conscious home décor brand dedicated to preserving the heritage of master artisans.

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