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 email@example.com
Soissette Grant- Marketing Representative
Maxine Burte- Seamstress
You can contact Carol Wong via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Where are you ,or what is the phone number, we sent emails but no reply are you closed?ere exactly are you I have tried to get a phone number or price list
I think the designs are good, keep up the good work
This community you have helped craft is equal to your vision.
Am just starting my embroidery/sewing desighn biz. Have good art background and often work with very poor or underdeveloped tribal communities.I am thinking about a craft guild communally that sells it’s work on the web.I also have a background in nursing, art, massage therapy. I often see great creative talent but no market. I really dig what you are trying to do as I have the same intention of helping others as well as myself.
[…] 19. Cotta Craft – a Community Based Craft Business in Bluefields […]
Your comment is right on the money. Good beach properties are hard to come by, and for a fair price. There is one cool place we rented near Niagara Falls, close to Sherkston Shores. They have a website , its a really nice play to stay, really a great Ontario Cottage.
Cotta Craft serves as a source of socio-economic empowerment to the women who work there.
Based on my interaction and discussion with these women I have become very aware of the valuable contribution the project makes not only to the overall welfare of the workers/particularily women, but to specific sectors of the Bluefield community.
The social-economic situation in Jamaica is such ( i.e limited opportunities to obtain gainful employment, lack of state sponsored welfare programmes etc) that it extremely difficult for many people,especially single women with children, to meet not only their personal basic needs butlimited in the degree to which they are able to adequately feed, clothe,shelter, and school/educate their children, even at the level of primary school
Within that context, the Cotta Craft project not only provide a means by which the workers are able to develop marketable skills,make a living, but also a way by which they are able to gain some social-economic competencies, self-confidence,financial independence, and ultimately contributing to the social-economic “betterment” of the Bluefield community
By supporting Cotta Craft by purchasing the “unique” well crafted items the workers produce you are contributing not only to the “empowerment”/economic wellbeing of the workers,and their families but to the community in which they live and wider community in general.
Fantastic Carol. What a great achievement. Who would have guessed that little dietician student I met over 50 years ago would turn into such an entrapreneur. The craft work looks amazing. How do I get to see the range of products? xxxAudrey
Miss C, You’ve outdone yourself! Such lovely work and so marketable. The pictures are great and your interview is done in your usual inimitable style. Bluefields looks like a wonderful place with friendly people…hope we one day get a chance to visit. They must truly appreciate the interest you and Ron give them to enrich their lives. Way to go!
Very nice. Beautiful artwork and very well hand-crafted one-of-a-kind Jamaican treasures!
I have watched it grow from year to year, and i am so thrilled to see where it is today.
If it were not for the hard work and determination of Carol and her team then Cotta Craft would not be where it is today. Her creativity,experience and workmanship make it the excellent product that it is today. There is no room to settle for anything less.
I am so proud of you!!!
I have seen the excellent work at Cotta Craft in Bluefields. Jamaica needs more people like Ron and Carol Wong who have given their time and energy to improve the lot of Jamaicans in poor communities – congrats.
Kudos on Cotta Craft Mr.Peter Wong!! Nuff respect!!
I have several Cotta craft items and am so impressed with them. They wash well and garner lots of comments, as an unusual “all Jamaican” gift. It is rare and beautiful. Jamaica needs more of this! They are available in a lot of fine gift shops. Look around – or ask for them. Keep up the good work!
I own Cotta Craft items and can attest to their superior quality and workmanship. Carol’s artistic influence and print making expertise has the Cotta Craft Team producing items that are uniquely Jamaican yet timeless and subtle in their design, enhancing the decor of homes, guest houses and hotels both locally and the world over. Cotta Craft’s emergence in a local craft market starving of creativity and innovation makes me a proud son, businessman and Jamaican.
Great job Carol. Enjoyed seeing all you are doing in Jamaica. Nice photos & dialogue. Will send this site on for Julie & Kari to see as well.
I love the products that Cotta Craft sells; high quality beautiful textiles. I’ve given them as gifts a number of times, and the recipients have always been overjoyed. If you are passing through Bluefields, you MUST stop in!
Excellent presentation, sweetheart AND you did it ALL on your own; no interference from me! WOW!
Blown away, Ron
Nice interview Carol, very self-effacing but the products are nicely displayed in the photos and well promoted. I hope to find some at the Hilton where I am going to a conference all week this week and tell my fellow participants about them. Betty
Enjoyed this story!!Hopefully, I will be able to visit when I am passing through Westmoreland. Nuff respect!!
Very nice article Miss C……..we are so proud of your accomplishment in this project so far and one day, Jamie and I and the kids will be visiting Bluefields to see it first hand!!
Hi carol I thought that was great. you interviewed very well. And the pictures were very artistic of the product. keeping your own self very much out of sight.
If I had not talked with you about the project last summer,I would have gotten a very good idea of what it is all about from this interview.
I’ve seen some of the finished products from “CottaCraft”, A Community Based Craft Business in Bluefields”. They are beautifully sewn, artistic, and unique. They would make wonderful gifts, as they are completely “Made in Jamaica”