Organization, quality, compensation
For MayaBags, our methods of organization, training and quality control, and compensation are closely related. These three priorities together allow MayaBags to realize the best execution of the Maya artisanal skills.
How We Organize the Artisans
- Teams from each village
- Team leader for each village team
- Team leader rotates off and a new leader rotates on every two years
- Team leader’s role is to go over a project with the MayaBags staff in Punta Gorda
- She then takes the yarn and whatever supplies are needed back to the village
- Team leader meets with the women, explains the project, the deadline and hands out the work equally among her team members
- Each member returns the finished work to her. Once all the work is received, she returns the finished work to the MayaBags office for quality review and then payment
Introducing the concept of quality control
Initially we paid for everything the women did. We would gently review the pieces each woman did with the whole team in the room, so that each member of our village teams could learn from one another. We also encouraged the more experienced artisans to mentor the others. We did this for several years until we really knew the women had the skills to move forward on their own.
From this point on, we made an agreement with the artisans we would only pay for quality work. Rejected work would go into what we called “a learning bag,” so the women could always look back at pieces they didn’t do well.
How we calculate pricing
The women are paid on a per piece basis. The way we determine pricing is to first put together a test team of embroiderers with a range of experience. The test team includes one artisan with highly developed skills, one with medium skills and one who could be categorized as an apprentice or beginner.
We then base the resulting fee for each project on the combination of the median time it takes the test team to complete their embroideries, their weavings or their basketry…and minimum wage, which is high in Belize.
Quality pays more, incentives to improve
This way the artisan with the most highly developed skills earns the most, the artisan with medium skills earns exactly what the time reflects, and the apprentice earns slightly less, reflecting the fact that she is slower than the more skilled artisans. This way, the medium and beginning artisans have an incentive to practice and hone their skills.
Artisan expense accounts!
In addition to the fees the artisans earn, we pay for all their yarn, needles, hoops, chalk paper, thimbles, reading glasses and anything else they need to do a professional job.
Plus, when a team member or team needs to come to the office to pick up or deliver work, we pay their passage from their villages to and from Punta Gorda. This is an added bonus since they can do the shopping they need to do in town after meeting with us.
Goals to avoid exploitation, be efficient, be fair
Compensation is surely a complex and controversial topic in developing areas. We seek to do the best we can at keeping our product prices reasonable, while avoiding the exploitative practices that can occur in such regions. (Even when those practices result in cheaper—although often flimsier—products.) We aim to be as fair as possible while following good business practices for efficiency. It is a balancing challenge, but one to which we are committed.