Connecting Mali’s artisans to global markets
In the cotton sector of the landlocked West African country of Mali, many unskilled and low-income workers are unemployed or earn very little due to economic instability. Most are vulnerable migrants and internally displaced people from central and northern regions that have fallen victim to inter-community conflicts, and terror attacks.
Yet ITC found artisans skilled in the traditional ‘Bogolan’ (mud dyeing) technique that offers comparative and competitive advantages in a global fashion market where tastes are changing. Consumer demand is on the rise for environmentally responsible sourcing and manufacturing, and fair trade goods made in socially equitable working conditions. The trend for handmade artisanal products − made with love and backed by human stories − means that slow fashion is replacing fast fashion.
ITC’s Ethical Fashion Initiative builds economic opportunity and helps create decent jobs by using market-based solutions in vulnerable and crisis contexts. In Mali, the Ethical Fashion Initiative helps textile artisans from vulnerable communities to upgrade the way they produce sustainable, handmade textiles while linking to global fashion and lifestyle markets.
The Ethical Fashion Initiative works by cutting out intermediaries to reach out to international fashion influencers and designers interested in finding products that have a positive social and environmental impact. At the same time, the Ethical Fashion Initiative runs a national mentorship programme for young artisans to connect to experienced ones to pass on Mali’s rich textile heritage to new generations.
In 2019, ITC launched Atelier Autodidacts Anti-Algorithms (AAAA), a branded project for artisans who use mud from the Niger River to dye handwoven organic cotton with unique brown-and-white patterns for cushion covers, hangings, and haute couture. The project aims to connect more than 1,000 artisans along the traditional handmade cotton and textile value chain in Mali to national, regional and international high fashion and interior design markets by 2021.
To do this, AAAA has set up a new way of co-working that connects local workers to global players, Mali’s heritage to international audiences, and traditional know-how to contemporary trends.
With its AAAA project, ITC has helped connect Malian artisans directly to consumers through social media and new technology. It has also given them a platform and visibility in the luxury products market by assisting them in exhibiting at Formex, the premier Nordic interior design fair in Stockholm, at shops and showrooms in Paris and Amsterdam, and museums in The Netherlands and Switzerland. The project featured in different international magazines such as Elle Decor and Eigen Huis & Interieur.
In 2019, the project reached its target of enabling more than 500 micro, small and informal businesses to gain greater awareness of international trade. Sixty-one percent of the firms are owned, operated and controlled by women.
ITC also enabled 300 enterprises to improve their international competitiveness and meet buyers through an e-commerce platform access partner, doubling its 2019 target of 150. The project also reached its goal of holding 30 training courses for 576 participants.
The project generated an estimated $113,000 in export value due to ITC’s support to the e-commerce platform. Each euro invested by ITC to support these micro, small and medium-sized enterprises generated more than $10 in export value.
This success resulted in a 100% increase in incomes for AAAA’s Bogolan artisans in 2019, and a 50% increase in salaries for cotton and textiles producers in the value chain.
The timeless products that EIF has developed in partnership with Bogolan artisans represent a new trend toward sustainability in the premium textile and clothing sector. AAAA has planned to attend a number of high-profile fairs and hold several pop-up presentations in 2020, while AAAA’s e-commerce platform partner is building a robust online and digital presence that maximizes the global pivot to remote purchasing.