FairTrade Printers, Nepal

Christchurch printmaker Michael Reed sent me this information about his recent project,
designing for Fair Trade craft printers in Nepal.
Its such an interesting story that I thought we should share it with you!

"Earlier in 2012 I traveled to Nepal to work as a volunteer designer and printing advisor
for the Association for Craft Producers and Mahaguthi/Craft With A Conscience,
both based in Kathmandu.
My opportunity was facilitated by Trade Aid NZ, a fair trade partner of ACP and Mahaguthi,
and supported by the Art & Design School, Faculty of Creative Industries, CPIT.

Nepal is a small Hindu nation, squeezed between India and China,
with a population of between 29 – 30 million,
consisting of more than 100 ethnic groups, speaking some 90 languages.
It is a little smaller than Te Wai Pounamu (NZ's South Island).
Kathmandu is located in a large central valley and has a population of around 4 million.
Along with the local Newari people, Kathmandu is home to a cross-section of the many Nepali ethnicities
as well as tens of thousands of refugees.

Along with tourism, handicrafts are a highly important employer, in the Nepali economy.
The USA and Europe are the major importers of Nepali handicraft products, along with Canada and Japan.
Although NZ is a very small importer, Trade Aid has a long history of being proactive,
supporting and encouraging producer groups when ever possible. My time there was part of that.

Association for Craft Producers, Nepal.
My print partners: Krishnadavi & Ramdavi, block printers;
Parbati & Kalpana, screen printers;
Shree, ink and dye mixer, screen- printer and print workshop manager.

Between them, ACP and Mahaguthi support the continued production
of a wide range of traditional crafts as well as newer technical developments.
They provide employment for some 2,500+ craftspeople across the country.
The majority of craft workers in both organizations are women
who would otherwise not have an opportunity to generate an income,
mostly located in their traditional areas and villages across Nepal.

Association for Craft Producers, Nepal.
Screen printing, wax-topped table.

I took 15 single colour designs in three themes, based on research of Nepali flora and fauna.
These designs were suitable for screen-printing onto fabric and paper
in a variety of colours, sizes and formats.
I judged them to be straightforward to print, no complicated registration,
aesthetically gentle and conservative enough for general export markets.
I also took a file of technical information on discharge printing and dyeing,
the technique most in need of review.

While there I was requested to produce a range of designs based on bamboo for textile printing.
The outcomes are evident in some of the images.

Association for Craft Producers, Nepal.
Power cut down-time activity, my block-printing.

Association for Craft Producers, Nepal.
Power cut down-time activity, my block-printing.

Because of daily power cuts and the priority of filling existing orders,
production and technical review was slow.
This means I will remain in touch to see everything through to completion.

The people I worked with were great and the experience challenging and rewarding.
I would be happy to do it all again.
The images show the printers I worked with,
along with my attempt at traditional blockprinting and some of my bamboo designs in production.

Mahaguthi, Kathmandu, Nepal.
My print partners: Sarada, screen printer and ink mixer
& Laxmi, assistant screen printer.

Mahaguthi, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Bamboo Collection, printing colourway 1.
Mahaguthi, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Bamboo Collection, fabric drying.

Volunteer tourism is viewed, often rightly, with a cynical edge;
dip in, dip out and come away babbling about your amazing insights, experiences
and a warm fuzzy glow of how you have helped to put things right in the world.

I can't deny that I experienced that virtuous do-gooder glow,
but I am hoping that my time and experience wasn't all one-sided.
As well as learning more about myself and my responses to challenging circumstances
I certainly gained further technical knowledge and aesthetic appreciation and I hope this went two ways.
As requested I wrote each group a 1,500 word report on technical aspects
that could be adjusted to ensure improved and consistent quality.

Future news about increased sales from the new design ranges
and examples of consistent quality printing
will tell me one way or the other of how and where I helped.
The potential of the people I worked with is very high
and I'd be happy to follow up on what I did if they required more input.
I admire and respect them for their determination and ability to carry on
in such challenging circumstances.

Mahaguthi, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Kokil’s papermaking business
& screen-printing, assembly and storage space.

It is said that there are 'lies, damned lies and statistics'.
In recent online Nepali news there was a government statement
saying how the export of crafts had risen greatly (40%) in the last calendar year.
This is the direct opposite of what the producer groups I worked with told me;
That exports had fallen (because of international economic recession)
and that the government had increased taxes, on exports and internal craft sales,
impacting directly on their ability to either increase wages,
employ more people or invest in improving their facilities.
Also smaller individual craft producers told me how they had to reduce staffing
because of the down-turn in international orders.

I was aware of the existence of long-term political problems before I went to Nepal.
I cannot claim that a month there has given me any more insight
into the baffling and overwhelming social and political complexity.
From an outsiders view there is a rich and wonderful cultural diversity,
but if this becomes the template for further political and administrative division,
 is it doomed to open up further economic and political gaps between the geographic areas
and produce a complex tangle of unmanageable bureaucracy?

I hope for all the good and talented people that I met and worked with
that political reason and justice for all prevails over the existing self-interest and divisions.
The people of Nepal deserve so much more from their elected representatives.

My thanks to Trade Aid, CPIT, ACP and Mahaguthi
for an opportunity that has certainly enriched me
and I hope will ultimately benefit the people I worked with.


Lynn Taylor said…
Fantastic - thanks for sharing - what a great contribution Michael has made, inspiring.
Anonymous said…
A wonderful experience and an interesting read. Fantastic opportunity from Trade Aid NZ for a deserving print maker. - Colleen