Don't look at the price. Look at the value.
Those who have the pleasure of working with their hands also have the displeasure of feeling the devaluation of their work on their skin. How many times have you been ashamed to say that your profession is to be a craftsman? How many times has handicraft been seen as a hobby of the housewife who, while taking care of the children, takes the opportunity to make a little extra money to complete the salary of her husband who works in the factory?
How many times have you felt inferior to someone, for not having an ''admired'' profession in society? A doctor, a lawyer… even working at the supermarket (which is no shame at all), manages to be taken as a more seriously profession than saying he makes a living from handicrafts. Or is it that in reality, as my artisan parents did all their life, you are surviving from the Arts and Crafts, and that is why we have reached the 21st century with very good handicrafts on the brink of extinction?
To understand the importance of this craft is to learn about the dynamics of a culture, especially Portuguese culture, in all its complexity and beauty.
The Beginning of Arts and Crafts
We could say that the first artisans in this world were Adam and Eve — since handicrafts have existed since the beginning of human history.
As early as the Neolithic era, man polished stone, made pottery and discovered that he could weave with animal and vegetable fibers. We can conclude that crafts are present in everything we have today. It was the beginning of everything. Fashion, for example, began through handicrafts as early as antiquity. So how can we devalue something that is, and was, so important in world history?
Over the years, there have been several drastic changes in society that have led to the decay of the arts and crafts — which we'll talk about in more detail in the future — but it was mainly the entry of industrial mechanization that made the Craftsman essential to be known as ''one who manufactures popular culture'' — which in itself remains a great achievement.
''What for some is nothing more than ground, clay in the artisan's hands becomes rare.'' — João Claus Bienemann
Having said that, have you ever stopped to think about how crafts nowadays are very much associated with the typical tradition and culture of some region, city or even country? How can we devalue something like this? Devaluing crafts is devaluing more than those who do it. It's devaluing who we are, our roots.
Crafts in Portugal
Example #1 — based on the real life of a craftsman:
Last July 11th at SOMOS PORTUGAL on TVI — you can review our participation here! — We had the opportunity to meet a Pottery Craftsman from our parish, Porto De Mós — in the center of Leiria on the way to Fátima, where you can also visit our Atelier and physical store here.
Now in his 50s, he shared with us, artisans of reed basket weaving, as he is currently the only artisan in his village to work clay, and since after him there will be no one else to continue this legacy.
''Because I've never met a millionaire Potter.'' — he said.
It hurts. And not because we need to be millionaires — few are the professions that allow us to — but because we need to be valued. Us. The Artisans.
Example #2 — the internationalization of handicraft:
''In Póvoa de Varzim, a traditional shirt costs €30. Tory Burch stylist asks for €695 and does not recognize origin.'' — read article. ''American stylist from Tory Burch who "copied" Poveira sweater will correct error.'' — read article. ''American stylist Tory Burch apologizes and wants to "fix the mistake." — read article.
Have you ever heard of any of these titles? It was a big bomb in traditional media — and with good reason. But have they learned their lesson? And we are not referring to Americana, but Portuguese — did they learn from this story?
Let's start at the beginning: in short, Tory Burch — a luxury fashion brand founded in New York, which claims to empower women and women entrepreneurs — was ''inspired'' by the culture and tradition of the Portuguese Poveiros, and the result was nothing less than a copy of the typical Póvoa de Varzim sweater in a pattern that reflects the tradition of more than 150 years of this, at a price that would say fair, €695, if this value were sold by artisan himself — which in reality is €30.
How surprised we are, when the artisans themselves show more indignant, not because of the price, but because of the copy of Americana, and they vent that only one shirt has 50 hours of craft work. Apart from materials, publicity, advertising, fees that must be paid to the government, electricity, working conditions...
Now, we ask: if these shirts are sold for €30 in local associations, how much do artisans who worked 50 hours per shirt earn?
It seems that this question and answer has not even reached the public, neither are there televisions or magazines talking about that. They just focused on the fact that they copied something of ours, and it all ended with a happy ending when the proper copyright was ultimately given to its creator, leaving aside the exploitation that is done to the artisan.
''Carolina Herrera's new line of bags is inspired by Aveiro.'' — read article.
''Carolina Herrera launches bags inspired by the city of Aveiro.'' — read article.
This news is, for us, a punch in the stomach that was difficult to take and swallow. Sounds obvious, doesn't it? Portugal and the Portuguese in general, traditional media, etc. were immensely happy with this exhibition — since here there was no lack of copyright that happened to our friends Poveiros, although, in our view, they say they were inspired when in fact we are seeing typical patterns of Portuguese reed basket weaving (which by the way I have already made many similar to the ones in the image above when I was a child and then sold by an intermediary in the market), that maybe even your grandmother or mother had equal straw totes to Carolina Herrera's, and this one adds some leather details, pom poms, etc, and thus they become ''inspired''.
But other than that, why does this happiness bother us? The fact that, once again, the real problem behind craftsmanship is ruled out: its devaluation. Who was the artisan who made these Carolina Herrera baskets? Because they are, mandatory, made in Portugal. So, from the €490 to €565 that is sold (varies depending on the country in which you access the brand’s official website), how much did the artisan receive?
There were even those who asked us directly if the Carolina Herrera baskets were made by us, Victoria Handmade. But just look at them to know the answer. Know that buying from Victoria Handmade is buying directly from the Portuguese artisan in a fair, dignified and ethical market for both the environment and the artisan. And these values, we don't sell them to anyone, and that's why we don't work for anyone else but us: the artisans of a family legacy with 70 years of history — read more about us here.
PS: this article was developed in August 2021. Please note that the Spring/Summer 2021 'Aveiro - Carolina Herrera' collection is no longer available for purchase online, having been replaced by the new 2022 collection.
''Portuguese stylist takes the pap traditional blanket to the Fashion exhibition in Dubai.'' — read article.
''Dubai Expo: Luís Castro Henriques believes that Portugal's presence "will be a success." — read article.
A few days ago there was a report on television that pap blanket is going to represent, and rightly so, Portugal at Expo Dubai, by a Portuguese designer. It is positive that artisanal arts and crafts are represented in the traditional / contemporary way.
The Câmara da Guarda supports, as well as the businessmen, as it dynamizes the country, the municipality and the artisans. There is even talk of investing in the training of artisans and it is all very nice to hear.
And we agree with everything, until we get to the part when one of the 4 artisans gives her testimony and mentions how good this presence in Dubai is to enhance the pap blanket, because…
''We are an Association of volunteers and we need money to pay for material and space rent.''
And what about valuing the hand work, the know-how, the sustainability of an artisanal project, the continuity and encouragement for young people to want to learn and live from their work… and the artisan productive unit factor (company). — ???
How much good crafts will live off the dust of museums in our lands? Crafts are not made for display. It's made for a living. It is made to travel the world and show the best of our culture, directly from the hands of its creator.
Elderly and child exploitation. The lack of ethics and transparent production in handicraft.
''Ah, but at the fair I find similar baskets much cheaper!'' — anonymous.
Victoria Handmade did not invent the typical Portuguese reed basket — which is part of the childhood and culture of many Portuguese — this actually tells the legend that someone foreign brought the art of basket making to Lisbon, teaching the great schools and master craftsmen, who later they revealed this art among the villages, and, by the way, Victoria Handmade comes from a village that can be called the heart of reed basket weaving, where in each house, each family knew how to make baskets: da Castanheira, in Coz of Alcobaça. Where my father, Toino da Vitória, learned at age 9, and one day taught my mother, Maria Manuela, and each one of us, her daughters.
Where, by the way, many of these baskets still come from today, the ones you find at the fair and even in big stores in Lisbon and Porto (and we would bet, those by Carolina Herrera). Made by whom? Elderlies. The few who still have the strength to make this arduous art, as a complement to their little reform, and who do not know how to work in any other way than in a parallel economy, where they have always worked, at prices that make you laugh when you know the work involved , and consequently discourages any young person to continue, who despite knowing how to do it, do not want to work in something unsustainable. And who can blame them?
Oh. And who made the baskets in the old days, before the Plastic Industry when everyone took their lunches to the countryside and to school on a basket? They were also made by children. Children like Me, an Esperança Vitória, barely 5 years old, who climbed a brick to reach the loom and weave her first baskets, who worked in all her spare time, to help her parents put something else on the table . And this is not a shame. I'm not ashamed of the calluses I have on my hands over 40 years old because I know how to do this art. But I'm sorry that these calluses made me give up a family art at the first opportunity for a better future, which wasn't handicraft, when I left home at 17, and I never woven a Portuguese basket again until I got to mine 38 years old, quit my stable job for 14 years, and create the Victoria Handmade project.
The lack of ethics, transparency and sustainability in crafts is real. Because to be cheap for those who buy, it is very expensive for those who make.
We can conclude with these stories — and as a artisan, it's hard for me to admit — that an outsider can better sell what is ours. And that the first person to devalue handicraft is, in fact, the artisan, as it is he who puts his work at the price of the rain — and not just the customer, who follows the path of those who go ahead.
The artisan has to change his mentality, value his work, his Art… and the public will learn to do the same when we educate them to do so. So as not to be surprised if foreign designers grab our art, ''appropriate'' it and finally sell it to values that, in our view, are fair. What is not right is for an intermediary to have profit margins of 200, 300 and 500% - no exaggerations - due to the surreal values that come out of callused hands and many of them already shriveled with age.
This is why it is so important to purchase directly from the artisan. And not at the store, not at the fair, as you are often buying from an intermediary. Since you will be helping the crafts exploration. Because 10 years from now, you won't be able to find these pieces, these masterpieces of art, in these stores and in these markets. Because 10 years from now, there won't be any more artisans. Because the elderly can't give more of themselves, and the young don't want to, and can't, work in something that doesn't support their family.
At Victoria Handmade, we will continue in this fight to value the work of the Craftsman. Yes, to stop being seen as illiterate and dependent. Yes, we know how to work, we have a vision and strategy for the present and the future. The victory is each person who values and supports the Arts & Crafts.