Artists from 56 countries gathered in Santa Fe to sell handcrafts, earning more than $2 million.
Artists from 56 countries gathered in Santa Fe to sell handcrafts, earning more than $2 million. - 
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Kai Ryssdal: Today in Santa Fe, N.M., organizers of the world's biggest international folk art market are counting up their take. Early guesses from this past weekend are that more than $2 million was spent on handcrafts from around the world.

Bearing in mind that a single Picasso can bring 50 times that, perspective is everything. But for artists from developing countries, that's a whole lot of money. Marketplace's Jeff Tyler was there.

Jeff Tyler: Officials add up receipts from the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. Fifty-six countries were represented, ranging from Afghanistan to Zambia. The total take for rug weavers from Morocco came to…

Market Official: $13,546.

The response from the Moroccan women…

Morrocan women yodeling

Thirteen thousand dollars is big money for artists living on less than $5 a day.

At the Santa Fe market, an African band set the tone as Americans shopped. This event is important because it helps replace the old traditional markets in the artists’ home countries decimated by globalization.

Julia Mutale represents basket weavers from the southern African nation of Zambia. She says, back home, traditional baskets are still used in rural areas. But in the cities, consumers have shifted to cheaper imports.

Julia Mutale: Nine times out of 10, they’ll go to the department store and buy a Chinese basket.

Her husband used to run a pottery business in Zambia. Note the verb tense -- ‘used to.’

Mutale: When the market opened to cheap pottery from China, we couldn’t compete at all. We had to close the pottery.

And it’s not just Chinese imports. Cheap baskets from Vietnam, for example, have eaten into markets in the Philippines. And American mass-production is also to blame.

Keith Recker follows the craft market for Hand-Eye magazine.

Keith Recker: The market for used American clothing in West Africa in many cases, particularly in men’s wear, has supplanted traditional garments. And to see it go away in the name of a, you know, a used New York Knicks T-shirt is for me a negative of globalization.

When artisans get priced out of their local market by cheap imports, Recker says they’re forced to adapt.

Recker: Sometimes it means taking on a job in manufacturing, or taking up some other way of making a living. And we lose their skills.

Alternatively, African seamstresses can seek out new venues to sell their work abroad. American Karen Gibbs founded By-Hand Consulting to help artisans link to global markets.

Karen Gibbs: Those handmade textiles from West Africa now has to seek this higher value, more luxury market in order to be competitive.

Competing for customers at the market, an artisan from Malaysia plays a guitar-like instrument. Some artists are new to the Santa Fe market. Others have been coming for years. Julia Mutale has seen the impact that money made here has for basket weavers in Zambia.

Mutale: It gives them economic power. They’re able to send their children to school. One group even bought livestock. Goats, cattle. They even bought a plow.

Over the years, profits from the Santa Fe market have funded indoor plumbing for a village in Tibet. In Ecuador, the money has paid for a roof on a women’s shelter. And in Rwanda…

Joy Ndungutse: Women have opened their own businesses through the money they get from this market.

Joy Ndungutse founded a Rwandan cooperative of 4,000 basket weavers. She says the money from exports has given women new status, even reducing domestic violence.

Ndungutse: They are earning more than their men. And the husbands are now looking at the women as respectable as men.

And the Rwandan artists have tapped into other U.S. markets. For example, Macy’s carries their baskets.

Marilyn Kawakami: Everyone, including the department stores, are looking to distinguish themselves.

Marilyn Kawakami is the former president of Ralph Lauren Womenswear. For the next year, she’ll act as a mentor to an artisan from India.

Kawakami: For the most part, fashion here in the United States right now has been homogenized. You can find the same thing at H&M for $15 as you can see on the runways for $1,500.

She says it’s the authenticity of handmade crafts and the back-story that distinguish these goods. So that same trend of globalized mass-production that erodes traditional markets also makes these crafts more valued by U.S. retailers trying to stand out.

In Santa Fe, I’m Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

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Follow Jeff Tyler at @JeffMarketplace