Caribbean craft traditions are being strengthened as the Sandals Foundation spearheads capacity building training of the region’s local artisans.
As part of its 40for40 Initiative to promote local and build local economies, the philanthropic arm of Sandals Resorts International is expanding its tailored artisan product development training programs to the islands of Curaçao, St. Lucia, Bahamas, and Turks & Caicos, building on the highly successful output experienced in its pilot island – Jamaica.
This year, some 20 crafts men and women from the communities of Canaries, Laborie, Choiseul, and Soufriere met in St. Lucia and gained design and production expertise in the use of locally sourced materials to create a more authentic product that is cost effective for their markets.
According to Finola Jennings-Clarke, participant and former Director of Business Development and Marketing at the Cultural Development Foundation (CDF), the workshop builds a much-needed bridge to support the preservation of the island’s unique culture.
“There are many things about Choiseul craft that are unique to the island of St. Lucia, but the key thing often missing is that link between the craft makers and a space in which they can sell their products. Through this workshop, the Sandals Foundation looks at helping our crafters bridge that gap with the aim that they will have a market immediately after training, making sure we do not lose the craft in Choiseul.”
Noting the challenges faced by crafters within the Caribbean, Mrs. Jennings-Clarke highlighted the need for a tailored approach to preserving the art and livelihood opportunities that exist.
“The Caribbean faces particular challenges in making craft. Many times we hear people suggest that [crafters] try to compete with manufactured goods from [countries] that either have technical capacity to manufacture in the millions or they have a cost of living that is very low compared to ours. The reality is we can’t do that. As little islands at the end of the supply chain with a higher cost of living and higher costs to source materials, we have to find a place where we can earn a good living and sell a good product.”
“Workshops like this nurture markets that understand our Caribbean situation, value our Caribbean heritage, and are willing to pay the necessary price for that.”
There is currently a limited supply of locally produced straw products available in St. Lucia. To support the growth of the industry, the training built the capacity of crafters in the use of locally sourced Pandanus and Vetiver Straws to replace the traditionally imported Rattan which proves expensive to sustain.
Facilitated by fellow crafter, Jamaican-born Christina McIntosh, the workshops brought ideas for modern day touches to strengthen retail value.
“Growing up seeing our grandparents or our parents working in craft, young people associate it with a harder life because you have to do so much to get so little. Craft was not valued back then as much so you sold your product for little or nothing,” McIntosh said
The thirty-two-year-old affirmed that today’s climate offers a revitalized and lucrative opportunity for which many can capitalize.
“For the first time in my generation I can be selling my products for what they are worth which means that the artisans that assist me in getting my products to where they are sold can be paid a better wage. There is a very good living that can be made out of crafts, if you are interested.”
Tourism Coordinator for the Choiseul Art and Craft Heritage Tourism Association, Peter Phillip, was elated with the knowledge gained and noted: “If I had this training from the time I was a kid, I would be much improved. I learnt a lot. I improved my skills in various patterns, sharing certain disciplines to ensure consistency of product. With my skill being improved, I can earn a better livelihood. I can even teach people and encourage younger persons to have arts and crafts as part of their livelihoods.”
For years, guests of Sandals and Beaches Resorts across all islands in which it operates have had access to locally made items at its retail shops.
In 2018, the Sandals Foundation, supported by the Development Bank of Jamaica, the Government of Jamaica, the World Bank, and in partnership with its resorts’ retail shop teams, piloted an artisan program, bringing product development, packaging, marketing, and other key skills to the landscape, resulting in increased outputs and sales. The program also saw proceeds of sales being reinvested into local community groups.
“Since the start of the program in 2018, year on year sale of products for artisans trained under the Sandals Foundation program increased by 23%, and in 2021, purchase of locally made crafts was one of the best-selling items within resort shops,” said Karen Zacca, Operations Director of the Sandals Foundation.
“These increases in sales,” Zacca continued, “have a real impact on communities as it means more value chain contributors will be able to employ more people to earn a living, local art traditions that represent a unique way of life will be continued, and the viability of this profession can be transferred across generations.”
The expansion of the artisan training program forms part of Sandals Resorts’ 40th anniversary celebrations in which it has identified 40 sustainable projects that best showcase the incredible link between tourism and its power to transform communities and improve local lives.
The program will provide more travelers the opportunity to take home a piece of the region. Sandals and Beaches Resorts guests can also look forward to meeting these crafts men and women through pop-up shops on resort and seeing the magic unfold.