Muhammad Ali stated, “The man who has no imagination has no wings.” Last week, while working here in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, I had the opportunity to meet two artisans who by Muhammad Ali’s standards are flying!
Maos de Minas supports Brazilian handicraft artisans through the sale and exportation of their products to international markets. My fellow team members, Monika Bloching and Tijs Van Lier, and I are here helping initiate positive changes to Maos’ supply chain strategy. The goal is to help scale the process to bring larger quantities of Brazilian handicraft products to international markets. One of our hosts, Catherina Machado, suggested a visit to two local hand crafters to understand the small business process from the artisan side. Our team needed to understand how imagination and hard work can turn a creative idea into a real product.
Our team first traveled to the home and workshop of Alessandra. Alessandra specializes in the design, and production of small pillows and doorstops. With an education in design, she incorporates wonderful colors and imaginative patterns in these products to create unique home accents. Alessandra has maintained a lifelong interest in sewing by continuing to take classes and workshops after learning to sew at the age of 10. She is interested in the use of sustainable products in her designs, and uses pillow batting produced from recycled banana leaves that is both machine washable and hypo allergenic.
Alessandra and her mother work in their spotless workshop every day, and produce pillows for sale at local shops, handcraft fairs, and for export through Maos de Minas. Through Maos de Minas, and their affiliated organization, Centrocape, Alessandra learned the IQS methodology for production and small business management. IQS is the formalized certification program for craft design offered by Apex through Centrocape. This certification helps the artisans to develop their products by being mindful the craft activity is economically viable, environmentally sound and socially just.
Alessandra shared with us that she embraced the IQS methodology for the design and production of her craft, and believes the skills taught for this certification have carried over to her household and everyday life. The methodology, she believes, has initiated such positive change to her business that Alessandra has agreed to pay her knowledge forward, and volunteered to train other artisans in the ideas and methods.
Alessandra and Marcio discussing IQS certification in her workshop
Alessandra’s Pillow inventory
Later that same day, the team traveled to Eduardo’s workshop in a neighborhood close to downtown Belo Horizonte. Eduardo’s specialty is woodworking, the design and production of one of kind pieces for home and office decoration. He works with a variety of Brazilian hardwoods that he dries over a two, five and ten year periods. The wood is “rescued” from trees that are felled for construction or garden improvement. For example, the city of Belo Horizonte is hosting several of the 2014 World Cup Soccer events, and is building a new stadium. To make room for the new construction, 900 trees were cut down. Eduardo got the call to come and take his pick, and he seized the opportunity to increase his raw material “inventory” by three very large truckloads of wood!
Eduardo has owned businesses in the past, and has experience with producing and marketing his products. Unlike Alessandra, he has chosen to rely on this background for the development of his business. Eduardo told us that he also relies heavily on word of mouth referrals for his business and chooses to be selective as to the markets he enters. It was through this referral process that Eduardo came to design and produce the official state gift given by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to US President Barack Obama on his visit here in April 2012. His creativity and talent is clearly visible in his carvings and shapes.
Eduardo demonstrating his wood carving techniques
Samples of Eduardo’s unique carvings
The artisan small business community is growing and thriving in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. It was a joy to meet these creative people in their own spaces, and see the wonderful things created! The artisans are using their imagination not only to conceive and produce unique products, but also to imagine new and creative ways to bring them to market. By working with Maos de Minas, these artisans and others will soon be “flying” to new heights!
To learn more about our experiences in Brazil as part of the SAP Social Sabbatical program, this video highlights our experiences, and shares our photographs and footage: