My 2nd day in Rio and the Asta team has planned for me to go with Flavia, one of two artisan coordinators, on a site visit to meet with two of the groups. Rede Asta has developed a new initiative – The School of Artisans – which is essentially an 11 month business bootcamp for the artisans to train them about business development, product development, sales, and marketing. Alice the Rede Asta founder wants to empower the women to make their business more self-sufficient, because they currently rely on Asta and its retail network for 100% of their sales. She doesn’t want them to have all their eggs in one basket! A big part of what I’ll be doing is developing short term and long term ideas to help them boost their sales and build their brand.
So, back to Flavia. Her role is to go out and train the groups on the various course curriculum – and as a result she works very closely with the women, something she loves. The site visit took us almost 3 hours outside of Rio to a small, rural, poor suburb. We were meeting with two of the groups: Cestaria Botanica (who was our host) and the other group who came in from an hour away called Nos do Ponto Chique.
Both groups have great products! Because they were our host, I got to see the entire range and production of the Cestaria Botanica group’s products – beautiful woven housewares and purses. To make them, they use plants from the river and weave them into baskets, pot holders, coasters, and purses.
Most groups have a leader, and the leader of Cestaria is Geralda. She has the expertise in the indigenous Brazilian weaving technique and has recruited women from the community to work with her and make the products. This group is in a really interesting position – they have a great product, but they just recently lost their one and only buyer, a major grocery store in Brazil.
So know they are essentially starting again to build up their sales. Their product is priced a little bit higher than others, but my instinct tells me it would be perfect for the tourism audience because it has such a great, authentic story. I was also really surprise and impressed that the group had a logo, tags and product pamphlets – something a lot of the other groups don’t even have. It sounds like a very basic thing , but many of these women have never been educated and the idea of having a brand isn’t intuitive. So we’re going to help them with that! After seeing what they can make, I was feeling really optimistic about their potential. When you start with a great product, you’re in great shape.
I was able to ask the groups of women a ton of questions about their products, how they make it, the challenges they face and some more history about their previous sales successes. We got a lot of great insights and useful “nuggets” of information – the wheels in my mind are already turning. Flavia even told me she learned a lot from that discussion. It goes to show sometimes the best thing you can do is ask questions and keep an open mind! And it was also a reminder for me of how important field work is for my job back home. There’s nothing like going and seeing the products, meeting the people who make them, and having that real life experience. Too often at the agency I’m stuck behind my desk and I want to change that!
Oh and of course I did some shopping myself – picking up a fruit basket and small box. And the women promised to make me a clutch as the one I had originally chosen wasn’t in production yet. When you’re shopping for change, more is always better!
Going to meet the women I could tell how important their business is to them. They told me how proud they feel when they see what they’re able to make, even though it takes hours of work and a lot of physical labour. For exampled, the Cestaria group has to pull the plants up from the river and once their products are made they have to lug all the baskets into the city for 3 hours on public transit. Many women in the group are 50+ so I was really impressed by how hard they work. It made me feel incredibly happy to have chosen Asta for my placement because I can tell how valuable it will be to help these women grow their businesses themselves and believe that they can do it. We’re helping them on an economic level by building their sales but just as importantly on a personal level by building their confidence.
My next post is about my day off exploring Brazil with Flavia. I couldn’t believe my good luck – scoring a national holiday day my third day on the job.
P.S I took the subway and train in Rio and it’s absolutely INSANE. People with mics, selling you literally anything you imagine. From snacks, to iphone accessories, to sponges. Compared to the absolutely silent Canadian subway this was really something to behold.