Made In China? What Artisan Growing Pains Look Like

In our trainings and follow up calls with artisans, we try and cover as many scenarios as possible related to their online business. Pricing, photography, sales, market demands, and packaging – the list goes on. No matter how intuitive we make the selling process for artisans, there will always be a lot of moving parts that they will need to master. We’ve noticed that for many artisans the gap between their current skill sets and what it takes to be successful on Anou shows how far some artisans need to go as they build up their 21st century business skill sets.

Woven into our DNA at Anou is the belief that artisans will never gain mastery of such business skills through trainings alone. Instead, we believe that the only way artisans can gain mastery is to learn by doing. Accordingly, all the tools we build are centered on getting artisans directly connected to market as quickly as possible so they can learn directly from their successes, as well as their mistakes. We don’t expect artisans to be perfect from day one, but as they learn and grow with guidance, direct market access and real world experience, we know that they will become successful.

It is no surprise then that when artisans first get started on Anou they make mistakes. But we view these mistakes as a good thing and we don’t shy from letting artisans make them. Yes, we could scale much more quickly, and we could generate a bit more revenue if we micromanaged artisans so they never make mistakes. But for Anou’s long-term success, artisans need to grow skills organically rather than having our team jump in and do everything for them. That is why you’ll see the occasional blurry photos or a few exorbitantly priced products listed on Anou.

Yet some of the mistakes that artisans make can be a little bit more painful than blurry images. One mistake that has occurred several times is when an artisan forgets to remove a product from Anou if it sold in their shop or at a local craft fair. Even though artisans can easily remove products from Anou with a simple text message, every now and then they forget. Then when a customer buys a product on Anou that no longer exists, we have to return the customer’s payment and write an apology. This week, we had to return a $130 payment. Writing apologies with the hope that a customer ‘understands’ is never any fun.

This past week however, we experienced a truly painful mistake, one of those ones you just can’t plan for.  Not only did an artisan send an item with the incorrect color, (one of the first times this has happened), but the artisan unknowingly placed their product in a bag with a “Made In China” sticker labeled prominently on the front:


The customer contacted us understandably upset. Not only did they not get what they ordered, they felt fleeced by Anou and the cooperative thinking that we sold them knock off Chinese goods.

When we followed up with the cooperative they were completely unaware that they had a ‘Made in China’ sticker on the packaging. They weren’t lying — we know the cooperative well. Not only has the cooperative worked with Peace Corps Volunteers for more than six years, we have verified that they are in fact the group that makes their products – they wouldn’t be on Anou otherwise. Moreover, the cooperative is just now getting online for the first time so it is safe to say they don’t have the experience to outsource their work to Chinese companies.

When we reached out to the artisans we discovered that the actual reason behind the now infamous sticker was a bit less incriminating: the cooperative reused a bag that they just had lying around.

As ridiculous as the situation is, damage has been done: Anou and the cooperative lost a loyal customer.  It is safe to say that we’ll make sure we inform artisans in future trainings that it is prohibited to place anything resembling the words “Made in China” or any country other than Morocco on their products or packaging.

Mark that as a lesson learned.

8 thoughts on “Made In China? What Artisan Growing Pains Look Like

    • Hi Earl,

      Thanks so much for your comment! We decided to refund the customer and let them decide what they wanted to do with the item (keep it or bin it). We did not ask them to return it. We covered the cost for the item, so the artisan still received payment for the original item. As our site grows and artisans gain more experience, we’ll expect the artisans to cover the costs of the mistakes they are responsible for.


  1. Dan i know your blog was not to speak negatively about the customer but a “loyal” customer would have understood. But to reach a more mainstream buyer your right this is a lesson learned. Your honesty is what will prevail in the artisans success.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Greg! Many customers would probably understand given the circumstances. However, we want artisans to reward their loyal customers, rather than using such loyalty as a handicap. When an artisan makes a mistake, they often say “Well, I’m just an artisan!” We really want to change this culture and ensure that artisans are accountable to everyone, even mainstream buyers.


  2. I can completely understand how the cooperative would re-use a bag. Even 30 years ago, when I lived in rural Morocco, I was amazed at how Moroccans naturally “reused” many items — tires would become soles on shoes, everyone went to the market with a basket or two and plastic bags were coveted for their re-useability.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Noreen. I couldn’t imagine how much plastic bags might have been coveted 30 years ago, particularly because they are still prized today even though they are incredibly easy to find. Fortunately, the culture of recycling (for some items) remains strong today — so much that the culture of recycling here has rubbed on me so that even I go to rather ridiculous lengths to keep using an item even after I should have thrown it away!

      – Dan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s