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In an age of mass-produced generic fashion, the crafts of traditional artisans are finding a new market with Western consumers. Fashion design with a conscience is part of an increasing shift towards people making more thoughtful purchasing decisions. Traditional artisans from developing countries are working with Western designers who are thinking up new and modern ways to use their crafts. This paper, based on my research and design experience in India, examines the business models used by Western designers to access and communicate with artisan groups to develop designs using traditional crafts. Are these business models looking after the welfare of the artisans or does the artisan’s role become that of a producer with no reference to the artisan’s cultural context? Unfortunately, it seems that the artisan is rarely directly involved with the designer and their skills are applied to products designed for foreign, unknown markets. Much media coverage is given to the perceived benefits Western designer and artisan interactions provide to the traditional artisan communities usually from the designers’ perspective. In the Foreword of Designers Meet Artisans, Indrasen Vencatachellum, UNESCO Chief, Section for Arts, Crafts and Design, supports the role of designers, ‘Given the communication gap between producers and consumers, the designer is seen as an indispensable intermediate, a “bridge” between the artisan’s know-how and his knowledge of what to make.’1 But it is also important that the artisans’ creativity is respected and protected to prevent them from becoming the equivalent of skilled labour executing the design creations of professional designers. The increasing preference of the Western consumer for eco-friendly, handmade, quality fashion products continues to grow, and the economic and socio-cultural contribution of sustainable development for the artisan communities, is well documented. But is this the reality or in fact a marketing strategy to attract the consumer with a conscience? By understanding the business models we can see how sustainable development can be supported.

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Conference Paper

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