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The Fashion Trend of Traditional Portuguese Basket.

moda da cesta portuguesa

Who would have thought that the straw basket that your grandparents took to the fields with their snacks; that wicker shopping basket that your mother had in the corners of the house; or perhaps even you, who fondly remembers the carrycot of family picnics or as a beach bag - would they ever say that the basket 'of the poor' would today become a fashion item for 'the rich'?

Basket Made Made In Portugal has gained a new value - something that, here among us if you want me to tell you, is already late. But better late than never. The question is: how do we explain the radical difference in price from the past to today, given that the origin is the same - Made in Portugal - and in the eyes of many, little has changed other than the price.

Let me clarify right away that, in reality, a lot has changed in Portuguese basketry. What? What is not seen in the product, but that the producer feels: the working base; the way of working with the arts and crafts of Portugal and the world.

How? Let's see, what if I told you that:

These traditional wicker baskets are the reason for the end of Portuguese crafts.

cesta palha tradicional portuguesa

You don't believe me? I will substantiate my observation.

Note the following: the end of handmade is coming at a fast pace. And we can't blame young people for not wanting to learn the ancient arts.

And no: we also cannot blame the difficulty involved in artisanal work. Professions that demand the best of us or that are difficult to learn still exist today and that is not why they are at risk of extinction.

And you can't just blame the boom on the Industrial Revolution or the Chinese. There is a share of blame in each of us.

I can speak as the 1st person: if we were to ask 17-year-old Esperança Vitória, the reason why she, the first opportunity, gave up the crafts and family heritage that she learned when she didn't even know how to read?

Young Esperança’s answer would be on the tip of her tongue:

- Because it is not sustainable to make a living from crafts. Because it's not paid. I don't do discounts. Because I won't have a stable future to give my children or a pension for old age.

Put yourself in young Vitória's shoes: if you saw your parents all their lives surviving on art that wasn't enough to pay the bills and put food on the table - despite their 3 daughters helping to weave baskets -, working in crafts as a complement to the salary at the factory where they worked full-time, would you want to live the same way your parents survived?

And what if we asked 17-year-old Esperança if she liked her art?

- No. It was always done as a family obligation.

All our free time, when we weren't at school, was spent weaving Portuguese baskets while listening to our friends playing in the street. My father sold his baskets to a man who re-sold them at the fairs, and at the time for just €10 or €15, the stallholder was able to have profit margins of over 100% without any work involved, compared to my father who handmade them, or those made by me and my older sisters who received what was presented at the table when it was time to eat.

When little Vitória grew up, she wanted to be a teacher.

I loved studying and learning, but I could only do so at school. At the time, education was only compulsory up to the 6th grade. When compulsory schooling ended, I wanted to continue but fate didn't allow it. I worked full-time in the family's basketry for 2 years, without pay, until I was 17 years old, leaving home and going to work in a crockery factory, and for more than 20 years I didn't weave a single traditional Portuguese basket, despite my parents made the crafts until the last breath of strength.

And who can blame me? Who would return? Under these conditions: nobody.

tradição familiar portuguesa

Isn't my family history enough to support the observation of the end of crafts? Ok. Let's share others' stories:

In conversation with a fellow artisan at the last design market we had the opportunity to participate in - Coimbra hype market - she confessed that she has no activity or company open in social security or finance. If that were the case, the price of her pieces would have to be much higher, and she is afraid of not being able to sell anything if that were the case, as today she has difficulty selling at an ‘affordable’ price and paying the bills.

Now let's see:

What is an affordable price?

This is a subjective perception of value. I will quote the paragraph from the article by professor specializing in Conflict Management and Human Development, Danilo Miguel:

In the film "Joy" (if you haven't seen it yet, do so urgently!), an executive at a chain store, Neil Walker, played by Bradley Cooper, tells the protagonist the following phrase: "I sell products at an affordable price, but I don't sell cheap products." Wow!

Nothing in life is expensive. Everything is a perception of what has, or does not, value for us as individuals.

I can value some house slippers made from the wool of the Bordaleira sheep, an exclusive and typical breed from our beautiful Serra da Estrela, produced nationally through an ancestral art derived from our Portuguese culture, made by the wonderful sustainable brand of mother and daughter BORDALEIRAS, and pay the fair price of around €86, while for you, any slipper is good for walking around the house and it doesn't make sense to invest that price in slippers.

But does it make sense to invest in our art, culture and Made in Portugal identity? Especially when we talk about an endangered art, today safeguarded by some wise old men and women from a local association that this brand is trying to reinvent and keep alive by creating a reason for the existence of the next generation of artisans?

Returning to the main topic:

How can you convince young people to preserve an art that does not support their family?!

By doing the old, in a new way. And I'm not talking about the production of work - but about the methods, philosophy and worker's rights that for decades were not guaranteed in crafts! (And which still aren't today, starting with the artisan himself and his fears).

And that's why the price of your grandmother's traditional Portuguese basket has nothing to do with the price of the baskets you find today. Because if we want to have Portuguese art and culture in tomorrow, we must urgently reinvent the wheel and make the sustainability of crafts possible, so that it can be present in the future.

And whoever talks about our traditional Portuguese basket, talks about our wool, our ceramics, our shoes: how much art with a made in Portugal print is lost?

In a recent report that Victoria Handmade did for RTP1 - which you can watch on YouTube (here) -, I make my daughter Daniela's words my own:

We tend to only value what is ours when we see it on display in a museum. And I don't want to see this art in a museum. I want it to go from our hands to yours. May it be in your home.

As if there was pride in seeing an art that died displayed in a museum that finally tries to give value to what was lost.

*Review the full interview in Portuguese by clicking on the image below*

In each of our masterpieces, we prove that yes: it is possible for ancient arts to coexist in a modern world.

Where each masterpiece provides a reason for the existence of the next generation of Portuguese artisans.

Today the public talks about the past price of handicrafts as if it was right, fair. Complaining about today's values. And they don't understand that while it's cheap for those who buy, it's very expensive for those who make it. And when those who do, stop doing - there is nothing to buy, no matter its price.