Selling handmade paper products is an uphill distribution and media battle. The market is flooded with good and bad products from around the world. Finding a solid market requires organized production, marketing, distribution and ideally participation in the Fair Trade Industry. Mahabir Pun embraced these concepts but was unable to put them into practice despite meeting with fair trade officials and help from a former volunteer. A good example of a successful non-profit organization is Bead for Life. They have excellent products, provide financial services, market artfully and appeal to humanitarian service. When I was teaching a bead making workshop in Nangi last fall, the women and I would use the products on the website for inspiration.
Sales were bleak until 2008 when a former volunteer, Sarah, started her own non-profit called White Circles and sold the books in Australia and on-line. She was instrumental in improving the quality and sales. In 2011 a volunteer family, Kim and her daughter Jessica, taught the women to make paper gift bags. These are marketed at grassroots sales in Singapore, USA and England. The bags are also sold in the Etsy store. Occasionally individuals will take a suitcase load of books home and sell to friends and family. Based on the honor system, they send the money after the sales. Sales have also picked up with the start of the Community Trek Project as more tourists and trekkers pass through Nangi. They have the opportunity to visit the paper-making workshop to see the process first hand and make purchases.
Overall quality and sales have improved but joining a fair trade organization and having a clear marketing plan run by the women would provide a solid business less dependent on volunteers and sporadic sales. Are you in global marketing? Do you have suggestions for how to improve the paper-making business? The readers and I would like to hear your advice, so click on the comment bubble above and leave a message. Join me next week and meet some of the paper-making women, hear their stories and live their dreams.