Development Crossing recently had the privilege of asking Paul Young, Founder of Craft Village UK
, a few questions about his innovative work with rural artisans in Africa. A big thank you to Paul for taking the time...
1. Could you provide a brief overview of the organization and your role and responsibilities in it?
Craft Village UK
work with rural artisan cooperatives in Kenya manufacturing our unique brand of copyright protected, animation inspired sculptures. After 3 years development we launched our debut ‘Simpsons Statues’ series this year.
We hope our contemporary African statues of cartoon characters will enable us to improve the working and living conditions of craftspeople and their families, and attract a new audience to the Fair Trade movement.
My Role: Pre Launch
My role was consumed with product and concept development… working with sculptors in Kenya, fine tuning the product, developing quality control techniques, etc.
Focus then switched to Corporate LA & London. The Simpsons as a brand is controlled by 20th Century Fox. For this business to progress it was vital to secure the necessary merchandising licenses.
To improve my chances I made a documentary about the project, highlighting the quality of the product how and where they are made, etc. After lengthy dialogue with Fox Los Angeles I secured a Simpsons merchandising License.
My role then returned to product development - specifically, packaging and print. I was honoured to work with Fox Creative to develop suitable packaging for this product range, which incorporates African inspired Simpsons artwork!
My role: Post launch
As the only employee, I’m involved in every aspect of the business. Managing production in Kenya, liaising with Fair Trade networks, overseeing logistics and shipping between Kenya, USA and Europe.
I work on sales strategies with my Europe and American distributors and growing Craft Village’s online presence. I’m developing our next product offering with a supplier in India. Plus I look after the general day to day ‘office role’ paperwork, bookkeeping, tax, etc. (The joys of being a new start up!!)
2. Capitalizing on the popularity of the Simpsons to “do good” seems like a great concept! How did the idea come about, or what inspired you to combine the fair trade movement with the lovable Homer Simpson?
Thanks! The initial idea occurred whilst looking at a set of stone elephant statues. I thought to myself if whoever sculpted them could produce something with a ‘western’ theme it’d be interesting to see the results.
The Simpsons seemed the automatic choice. It’s a phenomenal success in many countries. It’s an evergreen brand. Even after 20 years, 60 million people worldwide watch it every week. I expect it will still be popular in another 20 years. If Craft Village can sell one statue to just 0.1% of these regular viewers -it will provide 10 years full time employment for our Kenya artisans.
Plus the characters appearance lends itself well to soapstone production making The Simpsons seemed the ideal choice. I researched stone carving and Kenya seemed a good source of sculpture. I travelled to Kenya taking various Simpsons toys and made contact with artisans in the stone-carving region of Kisii. We took things from there.
It was natural to develop Craft Village in a spirit of Fair Trade. Fair wages, job creation and poverty alleviation is the bottom line, not just profit. I researched the soapstone industry, practices, payments and fair trade in general. I’ve gone to great lengths to ensure our partnership with our Kenyan artisans is operated in a fair and transparent manner.
I was delighted to achieve membership of the World Fair Trade Organisation earlier this year, cementing the unusual link between Craft Village, Fair Trade & The Simpsons.
3. How many craftspeople do you work with, and how is quality ensured?
At peak production levels approx 100 people work on this project in Kenya. Carver Group, Womens Cooperatives, quarry workers, local delivery companies and hardware suppliers all benefit from this work. The economic benefit and ripples reach a suprising number of people.
Our most effective quality control tool is our 'Carver ID' scheme. Artisans engrave a personal code on each piece they manufacture. This offers traceability and accountablility. Plus enables customers to discover which individual artisan produced their statue, adding a genuine personal link between customer and carver.
4. What’s next for Craft Village, are there plans to expand to other popular cartoon characters for instance?
Our product concept is transferable to many animation and film properties. To date I’ve met with Licensors for Star Wars, Nickelodeon, Aardman Animations and 4Kids Entertainment. I’ve recently started development on the next product offering. It is my vision that Craft Village will become a genuine innovator within Fair Trade and animation-art.
5. Any additional thoughts?
Yes! The next few months see the 20th Anniversary of The Simpsons. Our statues make an amazing and timely Christmas gift for people who have Simpsons fans amongst family/friends! Every order placed has a positive impact on many lives in Africa. Anyone interested can view videos and images on www.craftvillageuk.com
Also, a big thanks to Development Crossing for the opportunity to feature on your excellent interview series.
Craft Village UK