We had the opportunity to sit down with Marion from THEM project, whose first pop-up store was held on the weekend of May 26-27 in Paris.
[Pop-up Store: is an ephemeral store of small surface that mounts very quickly thanks to the use of a light and specially thought out structure]
The beginnings of the project
My Craft Curator: Hello Marion, we at My Craft Curator are delighted to meet you, can you tell us more about yourself, your passion, your training: what was the trigger for your passion for crafts?
Marion de THEM: It’s a trip to Colombia that was the decisive moment for me. I went for a trek in the jungle of Colombian Sierra Nevada where I met natives. I found that their very healthy lives had a lot of impact on their daily lives, their health, their beauty and so on. I questioned myself a lot when I came back to France. I even decided to change my consumption mode.
I had this project in mind for quite some time and I thought that it could be a way to pay homage to them by buying their creations and selling them. By doing so it allows to preserve all their cultural heritage.
The idea of this project is to offer the best of crafts, originating from lesser known places, because I venture into countries that are not really fully discovered and commercialized yet, for example Colombia Kenya Mali. Beside that I also propose a selection of Berber carpets which is a hyper sought product at the moment in France, especially in Paris, and which is not necessarily affordable for everyone. It’s not really justified.
When I went to Colombia, it was just for a holiday and I realized that there was a richness of craftsmanship with objects that we do not see much in France or very little. When I decided to start this project, a year and a half later, I told myself that the first country where I wanted to return would be Colombia, to meet artisans and sell their creations. That’s what I did. A quarter of the creations that I propose are creations of Colombia.
Then I went to Italy, on the Amalfi Coast where there is a lot of very pretty and colorful ceramics. I met a ceramist, and that meeting gave me a second “Aha moment”. In fact it’s quite easy to meet craftsman and talk to them about the project, because they really wanted to be part of it. This gave me strength to move forward with my project idea.
My Craft Curator: What is your training?
Marion de THEM: I did a training in marketing and communication. I worked in that field for 5 years. In parallel I always cultivated a lot creatively, which helps me a lot today. I come from a family of craftsmen, my father is a carpenter. I was always surrounded by art and it always fascinated me. It was a quite natural transition for me. I always knew that I would not work very long as an employee. I had some other projects ideas, but they did not suit me. I had some tech start-up ideas, maybe they were good ideas, but I don’t think I could have make them work. When I thought about this THEM, I knew that I could control it 100% and that I did not need anyone to get started. It’s much easier in terms of costs: for example, I do not need to pay a graphic designer, I do everything myself.
I thought I had nothing to lose.
THEM products and their cultures
My Craft Curator: How did you get to know the products you offer (history, manufacturing process …)?
Marion de THEM: It depends on the country and the context. In Italy, I met the craftsmen by chance.
For Colombia, I traveled there for 1 month so I prepared my trip. I tried to look for artisans, which turned out to be more complicated than anticipated, since they do not have Facebook, no website, and hardly an email address. I had to go through associations or embassies to get in touch with them. When I arrived there I already had a little bit of plan of where to go and who to meet, however you must also let go and adapt to the rhythm. I knew what I wanted from Colombia. For example, the Iraca palm baskets. The braiding with this palm is very very precise. You can make incredible shapes, like drawing flowers. We did not see this kind of article in France at all. So I had in mind to find an expert craftsman in this palm. I did not want to go home without.
I then placed orders with the artisans who send me the products. I was not able to put everything in my luggage. Also, the craftsmen do not always have a lot of stock. Their goal is to produce and sell. Everything takes longer to manufacture. An Iraca palm basket takes 2 weeks to be created. The family of craftsmen where I went they were 3 people that braided the bags.
In Morocco I was able to meet the right people and find what I wanted: carpets, cushions, plaids and a little rafia. My goal every time and everywhere I go is to work directly with the craftsman, to be able to remove the middlemen, and offer the fairest prices to the customers back in France. Most shops buy items, but it’s not the craftsmen who get the most money. There are at least 2 or 3 middlemen before, which inflates the price.
For example, on a Berber carpet sold 1000 € in Paris, the craftsman will receive 10% of that amount for 1-month work on the object. It’s not very fair. By buying directly from the craftsman, the craftsman receives the same amount, I make less margin and the end customer buys the object at its fair value. When a product costs 100 € I do not find it normal to sell 1000, it’s not fair price.
Another example would be benches, which are also a sought-after product. For some reason they are always much more expensive than sofas. This is not really justified because they require less work than a couch. It’s just because it’s a fashionable product, so the prices rise and the benches are sold for 1000-1500 €. For this product I went to meet a French craftsman from the South of France. He will be the only French craftsman that I will present in my pop-up store. So I will sell the wooden bench made by hand in France and the foam that can be covered with a Berber cloth. Guests will have a fully customized bench for less than 1000 €.
My Craft Curator: Can you put objects in their cultural context (traditional usage, object history, symbols, patterns, etc.)?
Marion de THEM: The story of the product is always told as soon as I can: on the social networks, in the pop-up store each product will be labeled with its story, and I will tell it to the customer who will be interested in an object in particular.
The idea is that objects are the stars. They are too often forgotten, I find it a pity, because when you have an object that has a story it’s rather exciting to share it. What is important to me in this project is to put the craftsman first. They are the only stars of THEM, hence the name that represents the artisans. A nice story would be about braided baskets by native Brazilians. They have small holes and the natives use them to fish, the water escapes through the holes and the small fish remain. There are also small wooden statuettes, which are made by a tribe from the Chocó region of Colombia. This tribe believes in the power of protecting statuettes against evil spirits.
Part 2 coming soon
See you soon,
My Craft Curator
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