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My first time (really!) trying traditional backstrap weaving - way harder than it looks!

My first time (really!) trying traditional backstrap weaving – way harder than it looks!

This week with my students, I’ve been working on a fair price calculation project – a project that’s been both challenging and frustrating, but one that I’ve really enjoyed working with. The project is focused on Juana’s weaving cooperative, Sanik – “worker ants,” in their native language of Kachiquel. Sanik sells many of their products abroad through my friend Alyssa’s tipico export website, Hiptipico, as well as wholesale to boutiques in the states, with help from my two predecessors, Alli and Michelle, but my concern was that despite these markets (which are – quite importantly – are currently providing near consistent work for all of the artisans in the cooperative), the artisans are still not receiving a fair price for their products, and my hope was that we could address this by helping Juana design a simple, adaptable system for calculating prices for Sanik’s products that are fair and just but will not prohibit market access.

We began on Monday afternoon with a group discussion and conversations with both Juana and my friend Reyna, who worked with me at Oxlajuj B’atz’ a few summers ago and who has quite a bit of expertise on calculating fair prices as she managed OB’s fair trade store and is now assisting with a rug-hooking export project. Juana began by sharing her own experience working with Sanik: She decided to form Sanik in 2005 as a way to help the women in her community make more money so they could support their children’s educations. Many of them were already weaving but had no way to get their products to market. So Juana started Sanik as a way to bring them together and find markets. With the support of SolCom and other personal connections, Sanik is now selling in Antigua, North Carolina, and hopefully soon in boutiques in NYC! Juana spoke so eloquently about how important Sanik is to her, but perhaps more importantly, it was so clear to us that Juana sees herself as in a very particular role of having the ability – and perhaps the responsibility – to use the connections she has made through SolCom, combined with her drive and passion, to help her community.

Then, Reyna stopped by to talk a little more specifically about the process and challenges of calculating fair prices. First, she brought up a big problem that many weaving cooperatives or artisan groups find when trying to calculating their costs – how to account for labor costs when different artisans are working at different speeds. For example, if one weaver is about to weave a scarf in 8 hours, but another weaver needs 20…how do you determine the cost of labor if you are to set one specific price for that product? Should the weaver who worked 20 hours be compensated more? Should quality be a consideration? Or would it make more sense to find an average of sorts?

Bo tried weaving for the first time too!

Bo tried weaving for the first time too!

Reyna suggested that, in the rug-hooking project she’s working with currently, their decision was to use the artisan who is able to work the fastest as the benchmark, and use that labor cost to set the price (knowing that prices must be consistent for any sort of sales in stores or for export). The idea behind this is that doing so will encourage the other artisans to work faster and more efficiently. We later learned that Sanik uses a different approach in calculating their prices – Juana instead chooses to use an estimated average of hours work to set the price. Reyna also talked about the importance of the artisans learning to value their own labor of weaving – it’s cultural and traditional significance, as well as formalizing it’s perception as more than just a past-time or a way to earn extra money, but rather as an actual, formal job – why shouldn’t weaving or artisanry be considered as formal of a job as working in any sort of office setting? In my students’ final presentation to Sanik, this was how they sought to justify their suggestions to Sanik that they raise their prices – not only should they be earning a minimum wage for their artisanry simply because it is just to be compensated fairly for time and labor, but also because of the uniqueness of their products, their weaving processes, and the social capital of their weaving cooperative.

A muestra (sample) of an upcoming Sanik Design - circle scarves! - recommended by a group of my G8 SECorps students

A muestra (sample) of an upcoming Sanik Design – circle scarves! – recommended by a group of my G8 SECorps students

We used the Sanik scarf as a basic example of our more fair price calculation. Currently, the scarf is priced at 90Q ($11.50). The raw materials cost 45Q, leaving another 45Q of profit, based on an estimation of 12 hours of work. This comes to 3.75Q/hour – a little less than fifty cents. The minimum wage in Guatemala is Q71.40/day, which comes to about 8.93Q/hour – about $1.14. Though this may still seem shockingly low according to American standards, it’s still over double what the women are currently earning, and is what the women really need to be earning in order to actually seguir adelante (move forward) in their lives and support their children, as they are trying to do.

The women of Sanik playing telephone, a popular charla ice-breaker. The word we chose was "fried chicken" in honor of the delicious lunch Juana cooked for us.

The women of Sanik playing telephone, a popular charla ice-breaker. The word we chose was “fried chicken” in honor of the delicious lunch Juana cooked for us.

The charla my students gave to the women of Sanik went about as well (perhaps better than?) I had hoped. The women, especially Juana, really listened to what we had to say – but Juana ultimately expressed to us that while the women are aware that they perhaps should be earning more money, they are afraid to raise their prices as the consistent money they are able to earn now has been so beneficial, and they are nervous that raising prices will limit their markets significantly. And really, this might be the case – Juana definitely knows the market for her products better than I do! But, as I tried to explain, there are certain markets – selling to groups of tourists or volunteers who visit Sanik to purchase their products, tourist-oriented stores in Antigua or abroad, and on their website – that prices definitely can be raised significantly without affecting their market in any way. And as always, we have to think in baby steps – even if the prices aren’t immediately raised to take into account that minimum wage, due to a combination of the women’s fear and the realities of the market, a slight raise in prices would make a world of different to the women in Sanik and to their families.

Jonathon (Juana's son) and some of the other children of El Triunfo - this is the next generation that the women of Sanik are striving to support through their cooperative

Jonathon (Juana’s son) and some of the other children of El Triunfo – this is the next generation that the women of Sanik are striving to support through their cooperative

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