What is Artisanal?

I bet you’ve had occasion to wonder just what the label ‘artisanal’ or the term ‘artisan’ really mean. The unregulated adjective has been appropriated by marketers to describe everything from bread to beer. But often, in the branding world, the tag simply implies ‘natural’.

In truth, there are many factors involved in defining ‘artisanal’—and one is indeed that the product is created from natural materials. But a single criterion does not an artisan make. Another is that artisan products are made from locally sourced materials. Materials that, in many examples, have been used by their ancestors for centuries to create the same pieces, in much the same way.

Natural products also have a much smaller environmental footprint and that is significant. Being locally sourced means that no one used gallons of fossil fuel to transport the raw materials to the artist. Using locally sourced materials also values tradition. Like the clay that our artisan partners in Mexico dig from the soil with their own hands. The way their great-great-great grandparents did.

Artisanal products don’t just preserve nature, they preserve centuries of cultural heritage that would otherwise be lost. These pieces are living historycreated from generations of families taking the time to refine their craft.

And these traditional materials are still available to them only because they haven’t overused their raw supplies. Think of the environmental devastation of the palm oil craze, for example. Created by overharvesting for mass industrial production. Sustainableand smallis big in our world.

The artisan trade can also transform the perception of refugee work while providing an outlet for both creativity and income. Witness our projects in Bidi Bidi with the incredible refugee women from South Sudan. Against all odds, this group of strong women created a cultural community and a better life for themselves inside a refugee camp—by designing scarves and bandanas. Artisanal goods are, by their nature, exclusive. There is a smaller number of each piece available for many reasons. Among them are slow design, collaboration, and respect for cultural heritage. This, in turn, makes each piece more valuable. 

Yet another value in working with artisans is the quality of the product. And the ability for us to be able to show you, the customer, where the product originated and who you are helping with your purchase. It’s very important to us that the product has a clear chain of supply. And that the majority of the purchase price ends up back in the artisan’s community. Having an income benefits the artisan themselves, as well the community they live in. Benefits all round.

The list of advantages to you, to the artisan, to all of us—is long. Sustainability, increasing local income, preserving ancient culture, providing a quality product.

And the result? Collective benefit from deep layers of responsible ethical sourcing. That’s what artisanal really means.

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