Sunday, June 6, 2010

Copper Crocheted Bracelets: More Trials and Lessons Learned

In March, I had blogged about the beginning of the Association's copper crocheted journey. This project had transformed from a wild idea to a beautiful result. Products grew from hilarious mistakes to marketable jewelry. We learned a lot along the way- the process of product development, method of translating ideas, developing a trainers of the trainers strategy, customer preferences, the importance of good finishing and the value of feedback. What I failed to foresee were the stylistic twists that lay ahead.

In November 2009, most of the women crocheted using double crochet. Fatima El Braga was first to experiment using single crochet. Aicha and Zohra followed suit. Lucky for them, these bracelets sold out at the AIWA Holiday Bazzar. Customers overwhelmingly liked the single stitched bracelets (as opposed to double). It gives the appearance of a much fuller and richer bracelet.

**Example of double crochet using copper wire.

**Example of single crochet using copper wire.

In the early months of 2010, the Association ladies took to heart previous feedback from the AIWA Holiday Bazzar and Mid-Service Medicals. The women overwhelmingly crocheted using single crochet. Single crochet proved to be much tougher on their fingers. However, the women persisted with enthusiasm. They saw the potential benefits in a well crocheted bracelet. Not only did these sell, the Association benefited from a higher profit margin than their line of beaded bracelets.

Production temporarily halted when the flooding rains came pouring down in February. As chance would have it, Ali and Donna were stuck in my little house for a couple weeks. I couldn't have asked for better company! We spent the long rainy days huddled in our sleeping bag cocoons, waiting for the new day's cake to finish baking and warming up with hot tea. In the meantime, I asked them for feedback on our copper bracelets. Many women were still struggling with the right sizing and making bracelet clasps. Ali suggested crocheting bangles. Thus, as cats and dogs fell from the sky, I tested Ali's new idea.

**My 2nd and 3rd trials. The first one turned out too big!

It didn't take me long to crochet a bangle to the standard diameter. I brought these to the Women's Center and received shrills of excitement. I was not the only one happy to avoid the problem of clasps! Thankfully, the ladies caught on quickly. Like me, they had a couple trials to figure out the right count to meet the standard measurement. Bangles ranged in terms of crochet cleanliness. However, I was proud that everyone's work showed improvement.

Fatima Essaki and I took these products to test at Marché Maroc Marrakech. My staagmates Rebecca and Tim organized an excellent day of workshops and profitable three-day craft fair. Copper crocheted bracelets were our most popular product!! Even those who did not buy, they walked over to touch, look and applaud the women's wire handiwork. Employees from Build-A-Nest suggested thinner bangles to be sold in groups. In this way, women with smaller wrists could sport our crocheted bangles. Of course! Why hadn't I thought of it before.

I took these (and other) comments to the Association officers. It would be only three weeks before the next craft fair. As before, Association members paid 10 MAD for 50 grams of copper wire. With the collected money, Amina and I went to the souq town to purchase more wire. The motor electricians showed me a darker shade, almost equal in thickness as the "golden" shade. How pretty would these two shades look together! I went ahead and wound half in the darker, "reddish" shade and half in the lighter, "golden" shade.

Half the ladies worked with the darker copper, while the others crocheted with the lighter shade. Each women crocheted four thin bangles. With a partner who used the opposite shade of copper, they swapped wire. That way everyone could add an touch of design to their bangle. Any remaining wire, they were free to crochet and experiment as they'd like. The women prepared a variety of bangles- thick and thin, round and flat- for May's craft fair in Rabat.

I brought up the notion of selling the thin bangles in groups- perhaps 3 or 5. The Association officers decided on groupings of three. We set a price incentive for customers to purchase not one but three. Individually, each bangle sells for 30 MAD. But buy three for 80 MAD! At Marché Maroc Rabat, customers had fun picking out their mini collection of three. We also struck luck with a respectable order to the States and potential partnerships in two boutiques here in Morocco!

The president and I spent a long day discussing how to divide up this order. With the year's success, some women were discontent with the distribution of wealth and work opportunity. Some pointed fingers at management. Some pointed fingers at production. I see these issues as multi-layered, complicated by the delicacies of small village dynamics. Passive anger boiled at the first general meeting mid-May. I am simply glad they had a forum to talk with each other, as opposed to all parties venting to their PCV.

Aicha and I talked about fairness. We also talked about differences in work quality. Aicha understands that this opportunity could open doors to more. The stakes are high for quality work. In the end, we told those with the best crochet work to make the thicker bangles. These bangles are approximately three cm in thickness. Sloppy work shows. Contrarily, less-than-perfect work is less apparent on the thin bangles, especially if the women carefully wrap the accent copper wire. Aicha adjusted the required amount from each women to smooth over differences in previous sales. This might be as fair as humanly possible.

To my delight, it was clear skies and smooth sailing. These women crocheted 40 bangles, without accidents, traffic jams or even panic attacks! I didn't handhold them, crocheting with and/or for them, as I had previously done. Several women surprised me with exceptionally beautiful work! This is the best collection of bangles I have seen from the Association. Now the bangles are on their way to America!

**Copper crocheted cuffs and thin bangles.

As always, there are still some kinks- most notably to standardize work and hide the wire's ends. I want my ladies to implement a quality control system similar to Ait Ourir's. There, a skilled worker is "buddied" with a less-skilled worker. The "training for the trainers" model is integrated into their everyday production. In addition, they have two women in charge of product quality. Currently, I do most of the product quality check. It's one hat too many I wear for the Association. Now that I am more familiar with everyone's work and personalities, I hope to use the long summer days to groom future quality drill sargents. Good thing I have five more months to dot the i's and cross the t's. In the meantime, I'm relaxing and enjoying the mini milestones they've reached.

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