My zoom told me that …
Episode 2: Artisanat
Episode 2: Traditional crafts

In addition to the health crisis marked by quarantine measures which have almost stopped global production, the world is witnessing today a major economic and political crisis, which will probably exceed the infamous crises of 1929 and 2008. On the first line, we find Tunisian handcrafts. Renowned for its traditional craftsmanship in various trades, the weight of this sector in the economy remains relatively low (4.6% in 2016), with economic agents who work informally for a number of them, they consequently find themselves exposed to economic and social fragility.

Considering the complexity of the issues, their transdisciplinary and multidimensional characters, the reflections and action plans that may arise could result from an innovative and dynamic approach: the goal of these webinars would then be to lead and support the cultural and creative sectors in the changes it will go through and to anticipate possible reformations.

Because change must be prepared and made, here and now, and in order to seize this crisis and make it a national and transnational opportunity for positive transformation on the scale of the different disciplines that make up the cultural and creative sector, it is in a collaborative spirit where the collective interests exceed the individual desires and needs that the webinars have multiplied, bringing to light the main obstacles that will arise from this crisis, the weaknesses that are accentuated and the actions to be taken to eventually remedy them.


Traditional Crafts

For this second episode, my zoom account told me that in Tunisia, the craft industry suffers just as much as in India. During one of the multiple webinars, the Creative Dignity movement was presented, an unprecedented movement that aims to address the challenges faced by 200 million craftsmen across India during the pandemic. It is led by leading organizations and individuals from the creative production sector, and is constantly expanding to integrate more actors from all sectors to maximize the impact of the movement.

Neelam Chhiber of the Industree Foundation presented the challenges faced bt the artisanal sector during the pandemic, since 93% of the workforce in India is in the informal sector, and we have seen millions of people lose their livelihood overnight. Susan Bhaktul, of the Industree Foundation, explained how important it is for artisans to earn income during this period, and this was the main demand that was encountered during the pandemic.

Creative Dignity presents the start of a solution to meet the needs of the Indian craft sector, but as Ayush Kasliwal of AKFD Studio specifically explained that the sector is so nuanced that no solution will work perfectly.The solution then comes down to creating different solutions to support the diversity of needs and unique qualities of our craftsmen. In order to create these diverse solutions, we must integrate the knowledge, experience and passion of many dedicated volunteers.

The challenges that have emerged are the lack of access to information and resources from the craft community in India. On the other side of the planet, Tunisia is facing the same issues: Creative Tunisia brings together private actors and representatives of public institutions to discuss and thus end up confirming what has been said above. In the private sector, Leila Msellati tells us about the support of the National Office of Tunisian Crafts (ONAT) and what it offers to young artisan entrepreneurs.The main goal is the supervision of the sector, that is to say assisting the craftsmen on several aspects. The first being institutional and the second, technical. Institutionally, when the craftsman invests in the sector, the role of the Office (ONAT) is to supervise and highlight his project in three stages: study the project, declare it legally and grant a professional card allowing tax advantages. Technically, the Office encourages craftsmen by facilitating loans from banking institutions and at the level of the acquisition of raw materials and machines for the start of their activities. At the production level, a creation, innovation and research assistance is offered while taking into account the needs of the local market but also of foreign consumers.

However, critics did not fail to emerge during the discussion. There are also constraints that must be resolved with regard to the acquisition of the artisanal card. "Do you think that this would be the moment to think of a special status for the designer (for whom the strong point is to combine materials to enhance artisanal work) which gives the advantages of an artisanal card without being in the obligation to master a specialty of craft trades and go through a training school etc. "

L. Msellati underlines that the big debate today in the National Office of Tunisian Handicrafts (ONAT) is the professional training and the closed circuit of specialties which must be reviewed. A substantive work is underway to review the status of the craftsman, the definition of craft activities, the craftsman and the designer. When we speak of a craft activity, we are speaking only of a craftsman-manufacturer, which includes a workforce. The designer represents a product in the production chain. It is also appropriate to speak of a structuring of the system of networking and collaboration between the craftsman and the designer by setting up a specification which sets out the working conditions, the rights and the field of action of each one of them.

A designer by training, Shams, founder of an artisanal business, continues with the idea of the card and claims the freedom to have the right to choose between craft and industrial processes. "We are free electrons, we must not be restrained to a single technique or only one material." He then explains the importance of reaching out to the craftsman and explaining the advantages of a possible collaboration with a designer. It is best to be straightforward from the start and explain the constraints and the objectives set to them. Shams then presents the evolution of his approach over the years regarding the production. Constantly looking for new trends, he launches three collections a year and he is confident about the impact and the sale. His approach is currently oriented towards the production in stock of products necessarily involving high labor costs but with the certainty of disposing of his stock thereafter. We cannot talk about artisan-designer collaboration without talking about intellectual property.

Suggested and discussed solutions

  • Pay first, then receive artisans through an entity that is credible and supported by national organizations or contacted directly by artisans (people who are willing to help have responded to a survey, they are willing to wait 3 to 4 months between payment and receipt of the goods).
  • Immediate relief fund.
  • Train artisans at home via video, follow and monitor their work via video too. Work sustainability.

Finally, the panelists propose to develop local services / structures that support entrepreneurs and facilitate administrative services as well as create a collective of selection of craftsmen to raise the level of Tunisian craftsmanship and promote Tunisia’s image.