Cotta Craft, A Community Based Craft Business In Bluefields
Carol Wong talks about Cotta Craft, a community based business based in Bluefields, Westmoreland.
YardEdge: Tell us about Cotta Craft?
Carol: Cotta Craft is the name given to the original sewing enterprise that started some years ago at the Bluefields Peoples’ Community Association in Belmont, Westmoreland. Cotta refers to the circle of cloth used on the head to carry heavy loads.
For various reasons the group disbanded and 3 years ago I came to revive it but with a twist. I have my Bachelors in Fine Arts from Emily Carr University in Vancouver. My main interest was printmaking – intaglio, lithography, silkscreen and I have produced some work at Malaspina Printmakers on Granville Island here in the city.
My plan was to teach simple printmaking and combine that with sewing to make items for the tourist trade.
It happens that my spouse is Jamaican and we decided in our retirement years while still able, to spend time on community development in Jamaica. A bonus is that we have family and friends on the Island and it is warm during our frosty winter! For me Cotta Craft is more than just a sewing/craft project.
YardEdge: What are you trying to achieve with Cotta Craft?
Carol: I like to say that it is “low tech” and can provide jobs now. Jobs that can contribute to family income without developing sophisticated new skills. Fabric has to be washed and pressed before printing. This is welcome employment. Leaf printing is an easily developed skill with proper training, silk-screening and stencilling too. The sewing we do is not complicated and again can be taught to those interested. But quality is paramount, no shoddy work is accepted.
We consider that those involved may have children, religious obligations, need to travel etc. so that we flex hours and commission piece work from homes. We provide opportunities for training to those interested. Workshops will be scheduled for the fall of 2009.
Cotta Craft operates under the auspices of the Bluefields Peoples’ Community Association and this is important, not only to our clientele, but to our participants. Many retail outlets want to respond to their customers’ requests for “Made in Jamaica” products that provide work for Jamaicans and “give back” to the community.
Cotta Craft supports the B.P.C.A. and its endeavours and other local artisans and we encourage others to become involved. In fact, have requested funding from a local Foundation to support a possible Bluefields Craft Fair which will include local artisans in the fall of 2009.
Materials are as simple and natural as possible. We pick leaves from the yard. Fabric is bought locally and paint is water soluble and non-toxic.
YardEdge: How did you get involved with Cotta Craft?
Carol: Ron and I belong to the Canadian Jamaican Medical Assistance Society a registered non-profit society, here in Vancouver made up of some the Jamaican diaspora in this part of the world. It’s mandate is to raise funds to help medical and educational projects in Jamaica. ( In fact Ron started it about 15 yrs ago ). A few years ago we became aware of the B.P.C.A. and began supporting their programs. As mentioned, now that we are able, we came to Jamaica to help ” on the ground”.
I suggested my micro project to the board and was welcomed to revive Cotta Craft. C.J.M.A.S. provided start up funds and we were able to: clean up, and renovate the space, service and repair the industrial sewing machines, provide storage, a printing table and security grille etc. C.J.M.A.S. funds were used to provide raw materials and volunteer community members came to learn the processes that I taught.
YardEdge: How do you market your products?
Carol: Ron and I started marketing by personally visiting outlets, showing our goods and telling our story. We slowly built up sales. Now three years later, Cotta Craft products can be found in Jake’s, Treasure Beach, YS Falls, Couples, Negril, Half Moon, Montego Bay, Harmony Hall, Ocho Rios, Lavange, Kingston, Strawberry Hill, Kingston, Kingston 21 Shop in the Hilton Hotel, Kingston and at our Studio in Bluefields.
Sincere thanks go to Laura Henzell of Jakes and Annabella Proudlock of Harmony Hall for their support and creative suggestions.
Now our Cottage Industry is able to pay wages and buy materials and is self sustaining as long as orders keep coming in. We have tried to be creative and responsive in developing products, listening to our customers: “Jamaica” is embroidered on many products. Colourful madras cotton is used to make aprons and patio table sets. African batik is used for unisex robes. Our printed materials use a cool palette that reflects the sea and green hills or the warmth of mango and papaya.
YardEdge: What have been your greatest challenges and rewards?
Carol: The biggest challenge has been to increase and maintain sales. In the slow tourist months sales drop. However, we now have Soissette Grant who has textiles expertise and marketing experience on board to address this problem and she has already had success with orders from Couples in Negril. C.J.M.A.S has provided a computer so that Soissette can more easily keep in touch with customers, send photos, learn of craft fairs etc. Another is travel and cost of delivery. Another is quality control which has to be emphasized over and over.
The rewards for me are being able to put my community development experience to use along with my artistic training; to watch growth and confidence and trust develop in those community members involved; to hear my words come back to me.
YardEdge: What’s special about Bluefields?
Carol: Bluefields, Westmoreland is a beautiful , historic bay, still relatively quiet and rural. The seven fishing villages that make up the communities here are struggling to survive. The fish are few and there are no jobs. Cotta Craft can provide much needed work for just a few but maybe will inspire other sustainable micro projects.
We feel welcome, appreciated and safe in this community.
YardEdge: What help do you need?
Carol: Although Cotta Craft does not aspire to be other than a small cottage industry we do appreciate orders for our unique products and that is what we need.
You can Cotta Craft via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Soissette Grant- Marketing Representative
Maxine Burte- Seamstress
You can contact Carol Wong via email at email@example.com