I wanted to wrap up this series on transforming our world through the Silk Road arts by circling back to the “big picture.” I am convinced that the traditional arts can serve as a meaningful way to tackle some of our most existential global challenges. Not the exclusive way, but one more tool to address the global crises that face the human race today.
Poverty & Income Inequality
Artisans of Armughon Handicrafts in Tajikistan, learning about natural dyeing.
Encouraging the traditional arts, and especially bringing artisan-made products from the far flung parts of the world to the West in a way that focuses on ensuring that the artists receive a living wage, is one of the most important and widespread ways of bringing in cash to marginalized communities. Fair Trade businesses like HoonArts and other vendors that focus on ethical and fair compensation may not be ready to challenge the Amazons and big brands of the fashion and gift world (yet), but we are making a start. It reminds me of the old adage—“You can’t save all the starfish in the world by tossing them back into the sea, but you make a difference for each one that you send back to the water.”
According to data compiled by The Artisan Alliance, the artisan sector is the second-largest employer in the developing world after agriculture, generating over $32 billion every year. Hundreds of thousands of people across the globe, particularly women, participate in the artisan sector. Over 65% of artisan activity takes place in the economies of the Global South. You can explore research and case studies about the state of the global artisan sector, case studies of high-performing artisan businesses, and the value of the creative economy here.
Empowerment of Women & Girls
Women and girls have more often than not been the victims of the modern global economy. The stories are myriad about girls sold into modern slavery to work long days in unsafe factories for pennies a day. They are denied education and even hope for a better future.
When the traditional arts are approached with a vision built around empowering those same women and girls, miracles happen. By bringing in cash to the family, women not only put food on the table and make it possible for their children (including their daughters) to continue their education, but they develop self-confidence and become community leaders. They expand their own education and serve as role models for other women (and men!) in the community, as well as the next generation of girls.
Armughon Handicrafts village artisans learning modern design techniques.
For example, several of the Armughon Handicrafts village women in northern Tajikistan have become coordinators of the Armughon Handicrafts projects in their villages and beyond. They have also become local leaders in their communities and have inspired educational and economic projects beyond their artisanal work. Similarly, some of the artisan assistants working with Seven Sisters come to Bishkek to continue their studies, and the money they earn makes it possible for them to attend the university and send money home to their families in the villages.
Climate Change & Sustainability
The traditional arts have a strong focus on sustainable processes, natural dyes, and locally-produced materials. Fair Trade and similar vendors in the West can support the local makers in maintaining and expanding environmentally sustainable methods and practices, including working on minimizing carbon emissions along the whole supply and logistics chain. Recycling and minimizing waste often becomes an integral part of artisan production.
Fair Trade vendors like HoonArts and other ethical producers are at the forefront of the ethical consumer movement and help lead the advocacy efforts for more sustainable production practices in fashion and beyond.
Polarization and Divisiveness
Particularly close to my heart is the role that the traditional arts can play in helping to dissolve the polarization and divisiveness that is rampant in the world today. Beautiful art is a “hook” that can start a conversation that can dispel fears. That conversation can lead to a recognition of our shared humanity, cross-cultural dialogue and understanding, and a sense of meaningful connection. That sense of connection only becomes stronger when businesses like HoonArts create long-term partnerships designed to build a better future for all of us.
Thank you, our Western fans and customers, for being our partners in this transformational endeavor!