For those who are not familiar, please tell readers about Zardozi, now known as Artisan Links.
Zardozi is registered as a local Pakistani social enterprise working with Afghan refugees and local female artisans who belong to low-income families. Artisan Links, as the name suggests, works with artisans in product development, quality assurance, raw material sourcing and training in tailoring and embroidery from different regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, connecting the artisans to the market. Artisan Links plays the role of a mentor and facilitator to these artisans, who don’t have the resources to reach foreign markets on their own. Artisan Links is a guaranteed member of the World Fair Trade Organization, making sure all the artisans are paid fair wages and their products are marketed locally and internationally. Artisan Links has a well-developed export processes and production unit to support this work. For the past few years, Artisan Links has been working with the MADE51 project by UNHCR for refugees. Under the MADE51 project, we get support in product development and marketing.
We have a product line developed by the creative team in hand embroidered accessories, gifts, apparel and home furnishings. Artisan Links also acts as a production house to international customers. We produce bespoke designs for these companies and organizations.
How did you become connected to Artisan Links?
I’ve been connected to the project for the past 22 years. The original project was called the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees (DACAAR). DACAAR set up a sewing center and trained Afghan refugees back in 1985. In 2006, DACAAR was re-registered as Zardozi, an Afghan NGO working in Pakistan. Due to strict government policies for international NGOs it was decided to again re-register Zardozi as a local NGO in 2017, this time with the name Artisan Links.
Despite the name changes, our work has continued and the team we had two decades ago is still mostly intact. It’s been a long but fruitful journey and I’m lucky to be working with people I love and on work that’s my passion.
What buying patterns have you noticed recently and how are you changing with the times?
We started exporting in 2006. At that point we hardly understood the international market, but our products were doing well with sales at NY NOW. Unfortunately, within a few years our products became stale and sales went down due to a lack of product development. That’s when we started exhibiting at Artisan Resource and a new range of products was produced. I saw the change of buyers from buying for their respective shops just for sales to truly appreciating handmade products. All of a sudden it seemed people were becoming aware of and appreciating the handmade.
We also realized that we had to make space for companies to have their bespoke designs made by us, so we stared promoting ourselves as a production house too. This brought in customers and we survived during times when other small companies had to close down. Though we couldn’t attend international trade shows because of a lack of funding, we were able to connect in a new way with this new customer base.
I find we often don't hear of the voice of the artisans enough. Since you are working with artisans on a day to day basis, what do you think they would want readers to know?
Speaking honestly, we are facing tough times economically in Pakistan and the project’s survival has become difficult. I think survival is a challenge for artisans and the organizations supporting them around the world. I believe any artist would want your readers to appreciate the time and effort put into each piece as well as what is needed to revive and support the dying art of handiwork. Buyers have the power to help this industry by saying no to machine-made products. Once the demand is built by buyers for handicrafts, the industry will thrive.
What is your biggest challenge at this time when it comes to reaching new markets?
Funding is our biggest challenge, followed by a need to constantly catch up with technology and the new sales channels that technology produces. Our current team is not properly equipped to promote and sell through e-commerce.
Who are your ideal clients? Are they buying existing products or exclusive designs? What is an ideal PO for you to keep the artists busy and employed?
Our ideal client is one who can work with us long-term order to order. We work better with bespoke designs that are made for these clients in large quantities. Our minimum POs can range from $2000 to $45,000. An annual sales target of $100,000 will keep the artists and our organization secure for a year, also allowing for some capacity building and artisan trainings. Unfortunately, we are often far behind that target.
Could you tell readers a bit more about your specialty?
We work with five types of Afghan embroideries: Tarshumar (counting of thread), Kandahari (from the Afghan province of Kandahar), Graphdozi (cross stitch), Puktadozi (filled stitched) and Zangeera Dozi (chain stitch). The first three embroideries mentioned can only be done on a balance weaved fabric and the last two are free-hand embroideries. We can produce almost any kind of product a customer wishes. We have worked with clients ordering 200 tunics to 1000 ornaments at one time.
Our home collection is another line that is popular with customers. It includes everything from pillows to throws to wall art that we have produced. Clients can choose embroidery types and colors. We make samples to share and once approved we compete the order.
In your eyes, what makes Artisan Links unique?
One thing for sure is that we have survived all odds and are still around. Our team is unique in that they have supported the project through thick and thin. Our artisans are well-trained and all of us believe in the importance of our work in keeping traditional embroideries alive.
What's the missing link in this field these days?
I believe it’s access to markets with demand for artisan products in large quantities.
Where do you think the industry is headed?
More and more things are moving towards e-commerce and customized products.
What do you think buyers need to know about working with artists, which often goes unnoticed?
I think what’s often unnoticed is the story of their process and what it takes in terms of skill, materials, and time to produce their work.
What's ahead for Artisan Links?
We’re focusing on e-commerce in order to increase demand for and sales of our products as well as capacity building of artisans.
For ordering info, please contact: email@example.com
For more info on the enterprise: artisanlinks.com