In 2009, Mabira Collective started as eight women stringing beads for individually placed orders in a borrowed garage. The intention of this organization was to create work opportunities in order to build more financial stability for women within the community.
From the beginning, Mabira worked to stay true to its mission by providing fair pay work for a handful of artisans. However, this work often lacked consistency due to the types of orders they were fulfilling. Like most artisan groups, Mabira was fulfilling orders that went directly to the hands of the consumers. This was because they did not have access to, or the capacity to fulfill, larger orders that would enable them to maintain steadier work for the women in their workshop.
Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon experience for artisan groups around the world.
Despite the artisan sector being the second largest employer within the developing world, artisan groups often lack access to, and the capacity to maintain, customers who would provide fair and consistent work through large global orders. Because of this, many artisans do not have a steady income. Rather, their pay is often unreliable and changes drastically with the season.
Ethik works to combat this by turning an inefficient system, with barriers to market access and consistent work for artisans, into an efficient system. This is done by working with artisan groups to build their capacities and connect them to larger orders in order to create more stable work opportunities.
This process is done all while maintaining the less efficient aspect of the artisan sector that makes each product so beautiful and unique, which is: every item is handcrafted one-by-one, with care to the environment and the people producing it.
Artisans stringing beads at Mabira Collective’s Workshop
When Mabira began working with Ethik in 2020, we collaborated with them to identify what they needed in order to sustain and grow their craft, and then worked with them to secure funding in order to build their capacity. This practice is known as capacity building, and is a core tenant of Ethik’s impact philosophy.
When Mabira started working on Ethik orders, they fulfilled a large order of 1,500 bracelets with 21 artisans at the beginning of 2020. During this time, Mabira identified that a big barrier in completing larger orders was having to spend an exorbitant amount of time driving to neighboring cities to fire their clay products. This process significantly slowed their production time.
Alongside Mabira, Ethik applied for a grant to be used for the purchase of two kilns, which would enable Mabira to fire their clay products at their workshop. This purchase saved Mabira approximately $122.25 and 17.5 hours every time a batch of clay was fired.
Prior to purchasing these kilns, Mabira’s staff would dedicate several days each week to outsourcing the firing of their clay products. Having the ability to engage in such an integral part of the production process on site meant that their kilns could operate at night, and the clay would be ready for them to work with the following morning. This significantly impacted Mabira’s ability to produce more items in a shorter amount of time.
Women at Mabira gathered around their new kiln.
“With our own kilns, we can confidently say yes to big orders because we’re sure of the quality and timely delivery. [The funding provided for these kilns] lifted a load that goes beyond clay products. The load lifted extends to lifting burdens of mothers with no hope for the future and children whose vision of education was shattered.”
- Tina, Mabira’s Manager
According to Tina, Mabira’s manager, having a kiln on site means having increased confidence in the ability to take on larger orders, which has led to expanding their reach and capacity as an organization, including hiring more women and providing more consistent work.
Artisan working with clay at Mabira Collective
At the end of 2020, Mabira worked on an order of 160,000 clay ornaments with 350 artisans, an order that would not have been possible without their ability to fire their clay products within their own workshop. The increase of Mabira’s capacity to take on larger orders provided 208,400 fair pay work hours and supported approximately 3,008 dependents for this order alone.
Mabira now has 301 artisans they work with on a fairly regular basis, hiring more when larger orders come up that exceed the capabilities of their typical staff.
The growth Mabira has made in the past year shows that when we address the barriers that make the handmade sector inefficient, artisan groups are able to expand their capacities to fulfill larger orders. This is done while still maintaining the most important, and completely inefficient, aspect of the handmade sector. Which, for Mabira, means that each artisan is still stringing each bead and hand stamping customer’s logos onto each clay product, one-by-one.