How Transcarpathian Handmade Artists Conquer Europe and What Obstacles they Face

Today, Ukrainian handmade market is rather large; this can notice everyone, who uses social networks. No doubt that some of your online acquaintances sell handmade fashion jewelry, sew bags, are engaged in decoupage, making dolls, knitting hats and scarves or baking gingerbreads – to put it shortly, they occupy themselves with handiwork when not in the office or instead of formal employment. For some craftsmen it is a hobby, and for the others – a profitable business. And the number of those who managed to turn their hobby into an own, small but successful, business is constantly increasing every year. Moreover, often Ukrainian handmade artists have customers from around the world. What makes Ukrainian hand-made products attractive for foreigners and how to master the “promotion” of own products on the European handmade market has been explored by “Pro Zahid”.

Citizen of Uzhgorod, Natalka Polyviana, is today one of the most successful handmade artists in Transcarpathia region. She managed to turn felt slippers into artworks – stylish, authentic, unlike any other. Her name was put on a list of 20 Ukrainian craftsmen who make the most original felted goods, and at the moment she has much more orders than the time she can devote to work as the mother of three children.

“For some reason felting is commonly associated with the Russian felted boots – valenki. In fact, many nations since old times have been making goods using felting techniques. For example, in Baltic countries, wool felted clothes and shoes are still very common and popular. In general, now the wool felting technique is used to make wide range of items: clothes, shoes, toys, interior design items, jewelry, accessories. Sometimes, I make women’s handbags and jewelry too, but most of all I like to felt slippers. Why slippers? Because I’m a practical person,” says Natalka. And her practicality has already been appreciated by nearly hundred customers, who are happy to wear slippers made by the young Uzhgorod brand “CozyPoly”.

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To make at least one pair of such slippers, Natalia has to work hard because the felting process is time consuming and physically difficult. Not everyone likes this type of work, that is why there are not so many craftsmen in Ukraine engaged in felting and that is the reason why felted products are so expensive. But the products not always affordable for Ukrainians are highly valued and well sold to the lovers of handmade from other countries. In particular, “CozyPoly” slippers are already worn in many European countries; they have also swum across ocean, to the USA.

A specialized international web-site “Etsy”, which displays handmade items from all over the world, helps Natalka in the search for foreign customers. There are many Ukrainian craftsmen on this web-site. They sell everything: clothes, fashion jewelry, paintings, pysankas, ceramics and other products. And everyone strives to stand out of the millions of other artists. Therefore, Natalka says with confidence that today, even the most talented artist needs to know the marketing, be able to “promote” own products in the Internet to become competitive.

“It is difficult for one person to both make and sell the products,” admits the artist. “Online stores need attention and constant activity. It is necessary to regularly present new products accompanied by interesting and competent descriptions in English and good photos. In addition, you need to communicate with the customers as well, respond quickly, provide them with the most complete information, and adjust all the details. This also takes time. Fortunately, I have an assistant who deals with all that, so I engage only in creative work.”

In fact, marketing is very important for the successful functioning of handmade artist in the conditions of modern Internet market. This confirms another very popular Uzhgorod artist, another Nataliia – the founder of “Workshops of Nataliia Svitlynets”. She makes and successfully sells leather accessories, authentic wooden embroidered bags, and woven decorations.

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“It is very difficult to catch the eye of the buyer. Imagine how a European lover of handmade items browses specialized web-sites: for example she enters a search request “bag” and scrolls hundreds of photos. How to make her to fix eyes exactly on my product? For sure, here everything depends on the quality of photo, because the client first “catches” the goods with the eyes. That is why I always try to accompany my products with high-quality and interesting photos. I do not invite professional photographers for this, and try to do everything by myself. Of course, it’s difficult, because I did not study the photographing. But I understand that even a very high-quality goods need a presentation – this is very important today.

To successfully sell your product, you also need to describe it well. Many of the craftsmen encounter a language barrier, because not everyone can describe the product even in Ukrainian so that the customer would like to buy it at once, and now it is necessary to do it in English! Therefore, the key to successful promotion of the handmade business is both the photographer’s skills and good command of English language. But, of course, first of all we need a high-quality work and a successful product with an interesting idea and interesting fulfilment. The competition now is very high, so trivial items do not have demand. Foreign customers are interested in unusual goods, and I am pleased to note that while reviewing the works of other Ukrainian craftsmen, I often see that their products are really modern, creative and high-quality,” says Nataliia Svitlynets.

Nataliia Furletova, another artist from Uzhgorod, entered into the European handmade market with such authentic products and her brand “Embroidery Portrait & Art”. She embroiders portraits in a very unusual technique, and recently one of her works – a portrait of the leader of “Radiohead”, Thom Yorke, got recognition by the musicians of this world-famous band in the social network. Natalia says that the citizens of UK and the USA are most interested in handmade. In Europe, the Germans and the French are also very fond of handmade goods. Interestingly, the Europeans are focused on the purchase of some artistic things, for example, they most often order Natalia embroidered copies of famous paintings or of their elements. Europeans love authentic and beautiful things, and if they like a certain well-known painting but are not able to buy an original, they do not hang a reproduction on the wall, instead they are looking for some authentic embodiment of their favorite canvas – for example, an embroidered copy.

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Americans, on the contrary, like more practical things: they gladly order embroidered portraits of their relatives or friends, they like to present embroidered images of houses at the housewarming party, they love embroidered portraits of pets, and etc. In other words, if you are targeting customers from the USA, you should prepare offers for all their numerous holidays, such as Independence Day or Thanksgiving. European customers are attracted primarily by the authenticity and high quality of the product. The goods made by the European handmade artists usually cost much more than the ones made by Ukrainian craftsmen. That is why it looks like the Ukrainian handmade market is now being integrated into Europe at the greater rate than any other.

The handmade market is really very promising today for Ukrainians. It can become an interesting, successful and profitable job for thousands of our handmade artists. And the artists themselves, with a competent organization, could eventually form a segment of small business, and even produce a profit for the state by taxes. However, the recognition of Ukraine as a state of extremely talented handmade artists, whose products are valued all over the world, is so far postponed. Because our handmade artists, whose products are highly valued by the foreigners, are often forced to look for domestic customers to simplify their lives.

For instance, a well-known Uzhgorod artist Maryna Fedchyk, who makes really good dolls and brooches, despite the high demand for her products was forced to refuse to sell them to the European buyers because of the difficulties with delivery. “Sending a parcel outside the country is always a lottery. Once my product, instead of Europe, was delivered to Russia. Another product’s delivery to Israel took half a year. Imagine – half a year!  Parcels may be lost or it can take them too long to reach the customer. It is not possible to work successfully under such conditions since you cannot guarantee the buyer that the ordered product will arrive in due time, if at all. Therefore, I still don’t accept foreign orders,” Maryna said.

Other handmade artists also complained about the difficulties with sending products by post. But these difficulties are not the main problem for successful trading in the European and world handmade markets. Our handmade artists often do not sell their products on popular international web-sites because they do not know how to get reward for them. The point is that Ukraine is still uncertain about how to cooperate with the global electronic payment systems. For example, the largest sites, including those selling handmade – “Etsy”, “Amazon”, and “eBay” – use the “PayPal” electronic payment system for payments between customers. However, Ukrainians are not allowed yet to receive money at “PayPal” accounts – and this is a problem faced not only by handmade artists.

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Of course, our inventive citizens find ways out of any situation. There have already emerged intermediator firms in the field of handmade, which promise to legalize money paid by foreign buyers through the “PayPal” system at a certain interest rate. Ukrainian handmade artists use the services of such intermediator firms, or look for other options, including selling their products at lower price in Ukraine.

“Thus far, handmade items are appreciated much higher abroad than in Ukraine,” summarizes the story about her work artist Nataliia Svitlynets. “I see how popular are Ukrainian handmade artists in Europe and the USA. It is, after all, just a pleasure for me to show goods made in the Transcarpathian region; I am glad that they raise interest in people far beyond Ukrainian borders. And it would be really nice if our talented people become known to the wider public. They certainly deserved it with their hard work and talent.”

This publication (article, analytical report, etc.) has been prepared within the frameworks of the project “Regions for Reforms” with the assistance of the European Union (http://ec.europa.eu/europeaid). The content of this publication is a sole responsibility of “PP Zakarpatskyi informatsiinyi tsentr” and in no way reflects the point of view of the European Union.

The original article was published on Prozahid

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