Composite image showing patti carpenter giving a talk at Penn 1 in new york
On October 24th, global trend ambassador Patti Carpenter gave a METROPOLIS Penn 1 talk in New York City.

Patti Carpenter On Working With Artisans Around the World

In a recent METROPOLIS Penn 1 Talk in New York City, the global trend ambassador discussed sustaining culture through craft and design.

In the intricate tapestry of global craft and culture, artisans emerge as the stewards. “The artisans of the world hold the culture in their hands,” explained Patti Carpenter, global trend ambassador, designer, and principal of carpenter + company at a recent METROPOLIS Penn 1 talk. With experience in product design, development, and trend forecasting, Carpenter engaged a curious audience with the profound impact of artisan made craft objects and products, shedding light on how designers and retailers can work with craftspeople as a way of preserving culture and sustaining economies worldwide. 

According to Carpenter, “Artisanal work stands as the second-largest employment sector in the developing world, following agriculture.” Beyond being a means of economic sustenance, handcrafted goods intertwine functionality with aesthetics, creating a vibrant exchange within local communities. For her, “Culture is alive, it’s not a stand-in thing, it’s a living breathing thing that impacts the influences places have on one another.”

“The Artisans of the world hold the culture in their hands.”

Patti Carpenter, global trend ambassador and principal of carpenter + company

The Hidden Costs of “Handmade”

For over 20 years, Carpenter served as the international product development and design consultant to Aid to Artisans, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. whose mission is to create economic opportunities for low-income artisan groups around the world where livelihoods, communities, and craft traditions are marginal or at risk. “Many young people from these communities say they would rather go to town and work at Hilton rather than work in their communities craft tradition, because so many of these people are working a dollar a day,” Carpenter explains. “But when that happens they lose skills over the years, unless we find ways to support them.”

She urged consumers to recognize the human cost behind cheap prices, emphasizing the importance of supporting artisanal communities for the continuity of their skills, noting the shift in perception toward handmade products, which have evolved from being a mere trend to an integrated part of contemporary design ethos. It’s important to recognize that, “Cheap prices come at a human cost.” 

Addressing the changing landscape of consumerism, Carpenter highlights the desire for individuality when discussing global trends for handmade products. Consumers are no longer just purchasing products—they seek a connection with the story behind the items they buy. Retailers, armed with new technologies, play a crucial role in conveying information and fostering socially responsible choices. Most importantly, consumers want transparency around their products, and more and more consumers are evaluating purchases through social impact. 

The Social Shift

According to Good.Must.Grow., in 2021, 64 percent of people bought goods or services from a socially responsible company (the highest level since 2014.) And a recent MIT Study conducted in 111 Banana Republic Stores found that when a label on a women’s garment changed from “style-centric” to “socially-conscious” the sales rose by 14 percent. 

To thrive in the craft business, Carpenter underscored the significance of continuous product development and good design. This is not merely about differentiation, it’s a commitment to sensitivity, meeting customer needs, increasing sales, and ensuring sustainability.

In her presentation, Carpenter dove into the components, materials, processes, and lifecycles of a successful product line, using craft examples from Nicaraguan ceramics, Bolivian textiles, and South African beading. In the ever-changing landscape of trends, Carpenter outlines color, pattern, materials, and storytelling as integral components. From “casual blues” to the resurgence of natural dyes, she offered the audience a comprehensive view of the current design landscape.

As the conversation shifted to the intersection of technology and artisanal production, Carpenter recognized the transformative role of the internet, especially in empowering small producers. However, she emphasized the need for training to bridge lifestyle differences and ensure a nuanced understanding of global design trends. When an audience member asked, “What are some ways our society can learn from artisan communities?” Carpenter offered the response: “Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you should. Think about how water preservation is not the norm in the world, yet Americans see no problem in leaving their water running. Artisan communities have a lot to teach us about waste.” 

In a world where consumers are increasingly demanding mindfulness and intentionality, Carpenter’s insights serve as a compass, guiding the design industry toward a future where culture, craftsmanship, and commerce coalesce for a sustainable and enriched global heritage.

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