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New project readies local craft and design SMMEs for the US market

The Craft and Design Institute (CDI) has partnered with Aid To Artisans (ATA) to bring their acclaimed e-Market Readiness Programme (eMRP) to South African creative businesses. This initiative has been made possible thanks to the support of the United States of America’s Diplomatic Mission to South Africa through the U.S. Consulate General in Cape Town. In October 2021, over 80 Western and Eastern Cape businesses benefitted through a week of dynamic learning, information sharing, inspiration and networking. The next phase of the programme is now rolling out through one-on-one coaching and intensive support to ten local small businesses.


The strategic partnership between CDI and ATA is focused on knowledge exchange and U.S. market access, and prepares South African entrepreneurs in the creative sector to successfully enter the rapidly evolving U.S. market.

The creative entrepreneurs directly benefit from enhanced knowledge on trends, changes, and requirements of the U.S. market; engaging directly with U.S. industry experts and retail buyers; building their confidence to grow their businesses despite the impact of Covid-19.

The seven-month programme includes the online U.S. eMarket Readiness Programme of webinars which took place in October; and a five-month Business Intensive process for the 10 selected businesses. The Business Intensive component includes small group coaching, one-on-one coaching and product development consultations with U.S. industry experts. This will enable these businesses to fine tune their product offering and action plans for U.S. market entry. In addition, access to recorded eMRP presentations will be available to additional creative entrepreneurs who could not participate in the eMRP.

Topics covered in the programme include: Global Opportunities & Trends for Handmade, Shifts in Export Distribution Channels, Post Covid-19 Trends in Color & Design, Product Development & Design for the Handmade Market, Costing & Pricing Strategies for the U.S. Market and Building Buyer Relationships (U.S. buyers) Online.

“We are delighted to work again with the ATA, having previously done so in 2007, to support local creative entrepreneurs, and we are very grateful to the U.S. Consulate team who have made this possible. This programme will enable a range of opportunities for producers to enter the global market, helping to take South Africa’s amazing creative products to new key regions such as the U.S. and helping these entrepreneurs to grow and develop,” says Erica Elk, Group CEO of the CDI.

Elk adds that the partnership with ATA adds immensely to the CDI’s export development programme, called NEXT, which has to date focussed on the European market and participants have had great success entering this market.

“Creative businesses in the NEXT programme are hungry for knowledge around the U.S. market and how best to access it; through the exceptional eMRP programme offered by ATA, local creative entrepreneurs will be empowered to take their next steps. Importantly, as the global pandemic keeps people around the world at home, and trade shows are postponed, it is increasingly important for small businesses get the support such as this to develop a strong online presence.”

Maud Obe, Director of Aid to Artisans, says “ATA is thrilled to partner again with CDI with the support of the U.S. Consulate to help talented South African artisan businesses expand their presence in the US Market. ATA’s Market Readiness Program has helped hundreds of global craft businesses grow over the past 25 years. We are so impressed by the creativity, talent and enthusiasm we saw in the South African businesses during the eMRP. We look forward to seeing these businesses expand their presence in the US Market.”

“We are very excited about the partnership we have started with the Craft and Design Institute,” says Jehan Jones-Radgowski, Acting Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Consulate. “The Expanding to Export Market Access Programme will prepare South-African-based entrepreneurs in the creative sector to enter the U.S. handmade retail market. We are always looking for ways to strengthen ties and build relationships between the United States and South Africa, especially when those ties involve our shared support of the entrepreneurial spirit and the aesthetic appeal of fair and inclusive sharing of culturally-inspired crafts. Congratulations to all the South African entrepreneurs going through the Export Market Access Programme, and thank you to Craft and Design Institute and Aid to Artisans for being partners in this worthy programme.”

One of the participants on the programme, Lindsay Fisher from Bili Beadwear, says “Thanks to all for the support you have offered our business by preparing us and putting us forward to the eMRP. I have loved every minute of this programme and have taken much away from it.”

Lewis Ndlovu of Kingsdale Emporio says it was very helpful to better understand the costing in particular. “When I started, there were things I did not know such as the costs involved in export; and the programme really highlighted again that every little detail counts, from packaging, to the stickers; and I have learnt how to breakdown the costs in much more detail. It was also valuable to hear about the seasonal trends; and when it comes to colours and trends the U.S. market takes this very seriously.”

Yvonne Manyiki of Dimzique Jewellery, comments that, “The most important part was hearing from the buyers, it really opened my eyes hearing the challenges they face with small businesses. Another area was the importance of setting up goals, especially for international market. I learnt about the events that we can attend internationally, how to define my product and target boutiques and stores, quality and mark-ups, and my favourite part was setting up mood boards and the information on colour trends. I also loved the homework from one of the shop owners, it will help a lot as part of my research. Many thanks to CDI for this opportunity.”

And Amanda Solomon of H18 Foundation, was similarly enthused by the programme, saying “I would just like to thank you for the opportunity to attend the wonderful eMRP. I have done many courses, and this one has been the most valuable to where we are in our business, ever.”

Eastern Cape based ceramist Lookout Sibanda says it helped him to understand some of the key areas to start with. “The programme brought attention to the things I need to do first, such as the importance of excellent images, which is why I have brought in a photographer now; and the need for a high quality website – I am starting to work with a developer on this as well.”

The good news for creative entreprenuers who missed out on the information presented in October – recordings of webinars will be accessible. The CDI will communicate with its database of business members when these become available to view.