Handicraft sector told to refresh itself

Thuy Dung

HANOI – The handicraft industry provides many jobs, especially in rural areas, and brings in billions of dollars in export revenue each year. However, in changing local and foreign markets with consumer tastes never staying the same, the industry is facing an urgent need for change to survive and improve the competitiveness of its products.

This was the common view shared by participants at a forum “Consulting on designs and outlets for Vietnam handicraft products” organized by the Trade Promotion Center of the Agriculture and the Vietnam Craft Village Association in Hanoi last Friday.

Multiple challenges

Luu Duy Dan, chairman of the craft village association, said there are now 2,790 craft villages nationwide with more than 11 million workers responsible for 53 types of work. These villages produce around 200 different kinds of handicraft, many of which have long histories of development associated with certain villages, such as Van Phuc silk, Ngu Xa copper, and Son Dong wood.

In recent years, the number of handicraft production facilities in rural areas has been growing at an average rate of 8.8-9.8%.

On average, each private enterprise creates about 27 permanent jobs and 8-10 temporary ones, while an individual household can employ 4-6 workers regularly and 2-5 seasonal ones. In embroidery and rattan-bamboo villages, each establishment can attract 200-250 employees.

Export turnover of craft villages has kept rising. Many handicrafts made in Vietnam have been exported to over 100 nations and territories.

The value of export handicrafts has also been increasing rapidly, from US$274 million in 2000 to US$2.8 billion in 2010, or a ten-fold rise.

However, Vu Quoc Tuan, chief advisor to the craft village association, expressed concern that sales of many villages had declined 30-40% in the past two years due to the negative impact of the global financial crisis and economic recession. Many craft villages have seen their volumes of new export orders falling by more than a half, and quite a few households have switched to other fields of business.

Dao Van Ho, director of the agricultural trade promotion center, ascribed this situation to the fierce competition with similar products from China and India.

Still, the most important reason is Vietnamese handicrafts lack design creativity. “Most products are made to the old designs and that has made customers bored. As for export products, most of them are made in accordance with the designs supplied by partners,” said Ho.

Citing La Xuyen carpentry village in Nam Dinh Province as an example, designs and outlets for handicraft products is key to maintaining and developing the village, said artisan Nguyen Van Duc.

However, solving this problem is far from simple because over 90% of the artisans did not attend professional training schools but the art has been passed down from generation to generation, limiting the skills of workers.

A way out

To enhance the value of Vietnamese handicrafts, experts suggested product designs should receive due attention.

Trinh Quoc Dat, vice chairman of the craft village association, said handicraft items should satisfy artistic requirements, featuring both traditional and modern aesthetics, meeting the tastes and customs of consumption markets. In addition, the products should be easy to be mass produced to serve domestic demand and export, and can be used for multiple purposes, instead of just for decoration.

Bui Van Vuong, director of the prototyping center for Vietnam craft villages, deemed it necessary to establish a center for handicraft design in Hanoi, attracting talented and devoted designers into the revival of traditional craft villages in Hanoi and the country as a whole. Artisans, skilled workers, industrial artists and designers need to be trained for traditional handicraft step by step.

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