CRAFTING is serious business. That is what the TT Craft Entrepreneur Network want people to know.
Often we see vendors with a table full of jewellery and think little of the effort and entrepreneurial spirit that go into the work. However, Erica Simpson, secretary of the network, wants the country to know, not only can someone make a living with artisan crafts, but also make a valuable contribution to the country’s tourism industry.
“Previously people saw craft as just a hobby or some person who puts up a table and sells craft at the side of the road. This is not what the TT Craft Entrepreneur network is about. Our vision is to make craft sustainable so our members can make a living of their craft. We feed ourselves of of our craft. We make craft respectable again. We call ourselves artisans because we are artists. This is what we do,” Simpson said.
The network’s members range in age 16-75. Some members include Twigs Natural, Tamana Mountain Chocolate, Ken’s Copper, Rodco Home Essentials, Bags and Things, Madame Moringa, Kuttage Accessories and Arthur’s Novelties.
Twigs Natural, is an example of a thriving artisan business. It is an all-natural herbal tea manufacturer that not only distributes products to businesses such as Buzo, Fresh, Vege Out, Starlite, Prime and Junckollage, but also exports to the US. It offers flavours such as bamboo tea, moringa tea and 2 Root Tea – made up of ginger and turmeric. In 2017 Twigs Natural won second and third place at the Global Tea Championships with its Herbal Blend and Christmas Tea respectively.
Madame Moringa is a health food company that makes products with moringa – moringa beetroot bread, bhagi moringa bread or pumpkin with turmeric and ginger bread, moringa cocoa tea, moringa protein powder, moringa non-dairy creamer and more.
Ken’s Copper has been specialising in handcrafted accessories since 1986, making items out of copper, enamel, brass, nickel, haematite, wood and leather. Its works have been exhibited at Carifesta, Design Caribbean in the Dominican Republic and the Artisan Trust in London.
The network offers two scholarships for young people who want to learn the crafting business. Shamaryah Saunders, one such scholarship winner, is now a member. She runs TwinGen.Crochet creations which crochets dolls, bags, bathing suits, hair clips and baby booties.
“One of our mandates is to take and share our knowledge. The network goes into schools to inform them of the business opportunities possible for crafters. We stand up and teach young people that you can make a living as a crafter,” Simpson said.
Every cruise ship season from September to April, the network sets up a market outside the port where the cruise ships dock. The network is registered with the Port Authority.
“Once there was a ship, we were there. We were on the port when the tourists came in so they could buy totally local products made in TT. The tourists do not want the made-in-China stuff. They want to experience talking to the artisans. Sometimes we do on-site demonstrations. That gives them a lot of joy.
“We have artists and they produce beautiful works of art right here in Trinidad. Tourists just love it here,” she said.
Simpson estimates a third of the passengers stop at the vendors’ stalls.
“When we keep markets, we insist that every product must be handcrafted and made in TT. Most of us do one-of-a-kind products. So you can guarantee you won’t see anyone else wearing it,” she said.
The network holds craft markets every two to three months. The next event is a Mother’s May market on May 25 at the Cruise Ship Complex, Dock Road, Port of Spain, where mothers can be treated to a sip and chat tea party and the artisan shopping experience. Entry is free but tea party tickets cost $50 each and patrons can get 100 per cent local tea and food.
“We are not doing Mother’s Day. We are doing Mother’s May as the whole of May is dedicated to mothers,” Simpson said.
“There will be local tea, local cocoa tea from Tamana Chocolate, herbal tea from Twigs and natural juices with no added sugar. The tea plate will have moringa coconut bake, cassava pone, salt fish, veggies, cup cakes, paime and more.”
Other upcoming projects include participation in Carifesta XIV, August 16-25 and an early bird Christmas market in October and a Christmas event in December. The network also exhibits at the Emancipation Village, flower shows and other large artisanal markets.
“We are always out on activities. We do a lot of outings,” Simpson said.
She said treating crafting as a business empowers the artisans and takes away the need to be dependent on the government for jobs.
“We are the job. We have to market ourselves. On this little rock, you don’t just send the foreign exchange outside. It is not easy but we do this. It can bring in a sustainable living for the crafters,” she said.