For the past five years, Patricia Badolo, director of the Village Artisanal de Ouagadougou, one of West Africa’s largest handcrafts cooperatives, has attended the New York International Gift Fair with support from the USAID West Africa Trade Hub. In February 2011, she will be there again – but this time, VAO is on its own.
Artisans at the Village Artisanal de Ouagadougou produce a variety of products.
“It was a long process of training and consultation, but now we are capable of doing it ourselves,” Badolo said. “It means we’ve grown and we’ve learned a great deal about the market and the clients.”
in Ghana is another company exhibiting independently when the show begins in New York on Jan. 29. The company’s booth is part of the Global Handmade section, one of the most coveted of what is the largest gift fair in North America, with more than 2,800 exhibiting companies that attract 35,000 professional buyers from around the world.
“Getting into the show as an independent exhibitor can take years,” said Kristin Johnson of Global Mamas. “But Global Mamas was known to the management of the show through our participation with the Trade Hub. So, we were given a booth without a wait.”
“We’re thrilled to now be an independent exhibitor in New York but we could not have done it without our years of participation under the Trade Hub.”
The impact is particularly important to the almost 1,000 women who make the products that have made Global Mamas so popular among consumers.
“International crafts particularly from developing nations are increasingly popular among U.S. consumers,” said Dorothy Belshaw, executive director of the New York show. “We’re seeing a tremendous amount of interest in these products and VAO artisans produce fantastic products.”
That made NYIGF’s selection of Global Mamas and VAO straightforward, Belshaw said.
Hundreds of women in Ghana are supporting their families and companies through Global Mamas
“For the more than 400 artisans at the cooperative, the selection means greater access to market,” Badolo said.
“This show is the place where we have shown our best products and not to be missed,” she said. “It’s the largest show we go to. We will use the AfricaNow! brand to improve our visibility and gain new contacts and more orders, above all.”
The cooperative’s path to independent exhibiting began in 2005 when Badolo started attending trade shows in Los Angeles and New York with support from the USAID Trade Hub.
“I did not think that we would end up here when we started,” she admitted. “We had lots to learn when I started. For instance, we were doing retail shows where we would sell products at the show itself – we learned that it would really be better to be taking orders at shows, not selling products.
“We’ve learned how to understand the market, how to prepare for trade shows and how to negotiate,” she continued. “It’s a process. We’ve learned to be capable and we’ve met the challenge. And we’re continuing to work on it.”
USAID Trade Hub Director Vanessa Adams – who oversaw the project’s business development program when VAO was just starting at the New York show – said the cooperative’s evolution made it a model for other companies to emulate.
“VAO demonstrates what companies can achieve to compete in international markets,” Adams said. “It isn’t easy but the impacts are tremendous. I remember the early years, unpacking boxes of mystery products on arrival at the show and improvising - now selection criteria is severe and begins months in advance."
“VAO is a source of livelihood for nearly 400 artisans,” she said. “Its success in the American market means more jobs and more income for not only those people but their families, suppliers, and service providers.”
Global Mamas in Ghana, which produces exquisite handcrafted batik fabric clothing and other handcrafts, is one other company that has been selected as an independent exhibitor after receiving support from the USAID Trade Hub. Belshaw applauded the USAID Trade Hub’s approach.
“Some makers underestimate what it takes to be export-ready for the U.S. market,” she explained. “Getting into the U.S. market can be daunting due to its size and related logistical concerns. There are shipping challenges to overcome, customs challenges and then, once the product is stateside, warehousing and distribution must be considered – it is a complex process.
“The USAID Trade Hub takes these artisans under their wings and takes on the job of getting them ready - they provide a critical element of training and support to the export process”
In the long-term, the Hub is helping the industry come together to share information and address issues affecting companies’ ability to compete internationally. In October at the 2010 Salon International de l’Artisanat de Ouagadougou, the world’s largest African handcrafts fair. The Trade Hub and key industry stakeholders discussed the creation of a regional industry alliance, which was the subject of a study
by a USAID Trade Hub consultant in August.