Researchers: Anne-Marie Conrado, Laura Lemna, and Loren Chen
In economies where agriculture dominates, the handicraft sector provides individuals, most often women and the poor, with subsidiary sources of income and critical employment. However, Nepal’s craft industry struggles with product development. Design is the competitive advantage that sets enterprises apart but has been woefully lacking with the resultant slow demise of Nepali handicraft traditions, the stagnation of cottage industries, and the loss of jobs across the economic spectrum as key exports are commoditized, diminishing the competitiveness of Nepalese products globally. For the past decade, University of Notre Dame art and design students under faculty guidance have worked with the Association for Craft Producers, Nepal’s largest fair trade craft organization, for 10 weeks each summer to design and prototype new products. This exchange has resulted in over 1,500 new products, upwards of 90 percent sample rates by global buyers, expansion of buyer networks beyond traditional fair trade channels, and most importantly, a significant increase in sales and more employment for artisan groups. To amplify the success, Notre Dame faculty members are working with Kathmandu University to co-develop a product development program focused on the cottage industries prevalent in Nepal and to create the institutional foundation to educate product development professionals trained to innovate in a global market and aid in propelling Nepal’s economy to a higher growth trajectory. The project has recently expanded to Cameroon, a similar country with an even more stagnant craft economy and significant challenges.