My Week With The Artisans

Wow after I got to the 1 week mark in Rio I officially started having my “holy s***” moment. I’ve got basically 3 weeks to devise my master strategy and I’m feeling the fire being lit!

My assignment with TIE was to help the artisans with their communication strategies and positioning. But I’m realizing as the assignment goes on that really what I want to do is help these women succeed and grow their sales while also empowering them to do it themselves. So I’m opening myself up to think more critically about the real challenge at hand and what I need to do solve it! I have another set of meetings with artisans this week and then we start developing the action plan.

If last week was taking in Rio, my new environment, learning as much about the culture and the Asta business, this week is about getting more grounded in the assignment and hitting the ground running with how I can help.

This past Monday I got to meet the really wonderful group Resurge Association. I loved their products – they stitch together scrap fabrics in a patch work technique cut to create the iconic designs symbols of Rio. Those designs are then applied to pillows and bags – a really popular product amongst retailers and Asta employees who have discovered them.

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Patchwork Beach Bag featuring the famous Christ Statue

What’s interesting about this groups is that they are part of an NGO (also called Resurge Association) that helps women and children collectively. It’s a great system  – they offer children classes to receive a better education (notoriously weak in Brazil) and while their children are cared for they allow the mothers and other women to train as artisans, product products and earn a living.

The team running the group was awesome. The artisan leader (blue shirt below) who designs the products AND teaches the groups how the make them AND manages sales AND production AND is the go to marketing manager…WOW that’s a lot of hats (here in my pic). And then there was the director of Resurge Association who is a psychologist by training and has been running the group for over 20 years. She told us that during the boom years in Brazil the NGO was thriving, with ample funding. But recently they have lost a lot of their investment and their in jeopardy of closing the group. It was a real wake up moment how dire the economic situation is in Brazil.

Myself, Flavia and the Artisans’ Group Leader

But despite it all I was struck by the camaraderie, joy and pride of the people who worked there. The women you could tell were so proud of the things they create by hand. And the NGO employees were determined to keep fighting to survive. The group might be struggling, but they weren’t ready to give up and had begun to find alternative solutions to try and share their resources with other artisan groups to stay afloat. All with a smile on their face.Viva Brazil! It made me realize how minor the hardships are that we face compared to a group of people like this and what they’re struggling with.

One of the artisans showing off her intricate stitching.















And ironically enough, despite the crisis in Brazil and increasingly poor retail environment where shops are closing everywhere, the Resurge Association’s sales have so far remained strong and even grown – a real testament to how beautiful their product is and its enduring appeal with locals and tourists.  In fact sales for the Asta store where their products are sold increased 3X.

On the strategic front, I’m starting to realize a couple of things. The groups individually aren’t all that powerful but collectively they could have a lot of assets, contact and a big network to share. Something I think could be an an important part of what we end up doing.

Next Up…my visits to 2 other groups!

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