For over five years, Emily Green has been working in the artisan sector, and is dedicated to improving the livelihoods of craftswomen throughout Peru. With her established retail brand emiLime handcrafted, she has taken her passion to new depths.
During 2012, Emily teamed up with Adrienne Chaille, a USAID business consultant, and together they founded Project Green Design Link, an initiative that seeks to empower creativity in design through education and knowledge sharing for the global marketplace by connecting artisans to a larger market. Project Green Design Link also has a comprehensive entrepreneurial training program, leading to long-term relationships and strong knowledge sharing networks. The cofounders state, “This project merges business training components and design principles, which enable participants to walk out of the classroom with a feeling of confidence in their ability to generate as well as sell.”
The idea to implement this project began a year ago, when Emily was asked to work with rural women artisans on a design project for Amazon Wakini, a nonprofit organization working outside of Iquitos, Peru. She observed that the group was functioning at a basic level, but lacked quality and marketable products. Emily explains, “This community was known for its traditional pottery, but after migrating downriver, the tools and materials were no longer available due to changes in the soil. In analyzing the natural surrounding resources, Chambira, a palm tree native to the Amazon, was identified as a potential material to use for handmade products. It is manufactured into a twine, finely woven, and then made into market bags, hammocks, and other accessories.”
After spending some time with the communities, she discovered that the root of the problem was not the lack of ability or materials, but rather the need for innovative design. Inspired to do more, Emily decided to bring some of the female artisans to Iquitos, where she led a design and product development seminar. Emily spent one week with the women, analyzing their abilities and sources of inspiration. During this time she realized that one-week was not enough time to create the needed changes, and a decision was made to continue the project and further develop their proficiency. Seeking to strengthen the supply chain in order to generate products, Emily partnered with Adrienne in fulfilling this need—ultimately leading to the formation of Project Green Design Link.
“The desire of the women to create is there, but the disconnect between my vision, exporting needs, and what was being produced was detaining the large amount of momentum that had already been built. Community leaders who have design training and understand the demands of the market, while also having a deep concept regarding the needs of the women in the village, can then serve as facilitators in building capacity and also help the women use their own creativity to generate new products.”
Emily explained that Green Design Link gives artisans a voice and asks them questions such as, What natural resources are available to you here and now? What new techniques can be applied to these materials? How can you express yourself and your culture through the products? It all revolves around collaboration, which is one of our principal values. Additionally, how can Project Green Design Link effectively tap into existing local knowledge and blend it, twist, and elevate it so that the products are marketable in a global context? Essentially, the initiative will provide skilled product development and individualized community support to artisans who seek to expand their work and share their culture with the world, while generating income for themselves and their community.
Apart from energizing their creativity, Green Design Link offers complimentary services and training for each member's specific business needs. The seminars include how to successfully communicate with the design world and how to operate in accord with the demands of this particular market. “Our vision is to create a methodology, adaptable to various contexts, of how to teach product design and how to implement it in applicable ways that serve communities,” says Adrienne Chaille. Thus, the program hopes to generate knowledge networks of artisans whereby they may define themselves and their communities uniquely, while being able to compete in an international market. What can happen when the artisans are linked locally, regionally and/or globally? What types of innovation can emerge? Project Green Design Link hopes to serve as a crucial mechanism in this progress through a structured methodology that is based on market needs.
Green Design Link’s first pilot project is responding to communities’ call for more direction in design, language, and technology. This project will be working with selected graduates of the Goldman Sachs Foundations’ 10,000 Women Peru Program, a business education program in collaboration with local universities, throughout the country offering extensive complimentary services such as mentoring, workshops and access to new markets. The project is scheduled to launch in May 2013. “These business owners are the leaders of the groups, providing guidance to many artisans who may rely on the income as supplemental and part-time. When there is a large order, these groups gather to learn new designs and methods – following the lead of the leaders. Being in charge of all these tasks can be demanding, and the leaders often assert that they would benefit from additional support to improve their products as well as to build a larger client base. With enough resources, the potential is there—with a little bit of capital and technical support, these communities have the ability to manufacture at a competitive scale. More importantly, they want to produce and provide for their families.”