First off, I must admit to being a flea market hound. I love the hunt and finding the deal. I’ve also made my ‘best offers’ on eBay – sometimes to my pleasure and other times not. The thing is in these environments, I’m typically buying from savvy sellers who know what they need to make their sales worthwhile. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose.
But let’s get back to when I was an ass, my confession and how that changed my life. The year was most likely 1989. I had started traveling to Guatemala because I’d heard it was beautiful and replete with artisans creating extraordinary crafts. I was working in ‘Corporate America’ and was considering jumping into the world of entrepreneurship. I did my homework ahead of my visits. Sometimes I traveled by “chicken bus.” Later on, I had hired a driver. (Back then there were no tourist vans, which can now be easily booked.) My mission was to visit various villages known for different crafts. I traveled to so many different places to learn about weaving, painting, embroidery and carving. There wasn’t just one village known for weaving or painting. There were several. And each used their own techniques. There were (and are) several towns with craft markets. These were the best times to find trinkets and gifts. In most cases, you’d find stalls (or spaces) with vendors or artisans showing off piles of everything. Everything included totes, hats, blankets and yes, lots of friendship bracelets. (Unlike now, at that time, there was no beaded jewelry. Stay tuned for that story another time.) Sometimes you’d find a single artisan standing on the street selling one or two items he or she had made. Yup, that’s the one time in my life I bargained too hard. A sweet man was selling a small zippered change purse. I don’t remember the specific details of the interaction. What I do remember is feeling badly afterwards. I’m certain he sold me the small bag for less than he wanted because he needed some money to eat or feed his family. The specifics, I’ll never know. But to this day, my gut tells me I was wrong. And I was probably wrong over very little money. I should have been elated over purchasing a pretty handmade piece. Instead, I felt horrible.
That man will never know how he changed my life. After that, I never again bargained with such veracity. And when working with artisans ever since, I always remember the ‘Golden Rule.’ It was shortly after this experience that I decided to start my own business designing and wholesaling handicrafts. I’m keenly aware that many vendors that purchase and re-sell goods bully artisans for the lowest prices possible. That one experience made a fair trader out of me. Good can come from bad. -ND