It has been over a year since I (Maria Wood) started working at SERRV. As an assistant buyer in the Product Development Team, I’ve learned a lot about the challenges involved in developing products with artisans living in more than 36 countries.
Ideally, artisans would prefer that we visit and work with them directly when developing a specific product or product line because distance design can be very difficult for some of them. Imagine living in a remote area, where you barely have access to the internet and sometimes even electricity! However, SERRV can not afford to travel around the world and visit every single artisan, so we must rely on the internet to do most of our sample development. Thanks to SERRV’s partner organizations in each country, distance design with artisans is not impossible. Each organization acts as an intermediary between SERRV and the artisan. In some occasions SERRV does work with the artisan group directly, but most of the time our sample requests are sent to the umbrella organization first and then they make sure that the artisan(s) receives and understands our product specifications.
In 2011 I visited SERRV’s partner organizations in Peru and had the opportunity to meet some of the artisans. The producers talked about their struggle in developing products for the USA market. Their lack of understanding of the American culture and trends, made it difficult for them to come up with marketable designs. That is why it’s very important for SERRV and the partner organization to provide specific guidance when developing samples with the artisans. An inspiration image or idea of what a consumer in the USA might buy is not specific enough for the artisans in Peru. The artisans want to know dimensions, colors, form, materials, and anything else that helps him/her develop the correct product. The sample request process at SERRV, however, can not always be very specific because we don’t have the resources to spend too much time on each sample request that we have to get out to more than 70 partner organizations around the world. Instead, Serrv provides guidance to the artisans in the form of trend reports, short term volunteer designers, design camps, and if we have funding, then we sometimes travel and work with them directly.
Unlike our partners in other countries, SERRV’s Latin American partners do not have designers on staff. When I requested samples to be developed for the Fall 2012 catalog season, I decided to spend a little more time on some of the Latin American sample requests. When we got the samples, no modifications needed to be made and the Product Team was satisfied with the results. It is very exciting to see these products for sale in SERRV’s Fall 2012 Catalog!
Left: Artisan Rafael del Campo from Lima, Peru with his family (He works with Manos Amigas, one of SERRV’s partner organizations in Peru)
Right: Piggy Ornament designed by Maria Amalia Wood and crafted by Rafael del Campo
At the end of the day, the most rewarding part of my job is to know that families around the world are benefiting from SERRV’s product development process. It is not perfect, but it works!