Basketry & Handicraft Business

Opportunities In Culture Driven Handicraft, Basket Weaving & Supplies

Most African countries export some form of handicraft or other however the returns are not as significant as those exported from Asian countries. Basketry is the finest blend of the African environment with their technology and Art. It is one of the oldest traditions known to man; archaeological evidence in found in Egypt, Peru, Southern Spain, Switzerland and Jarmo all show that baskets were have been used even before 4000 BC.

Baskets and woven items were used as containers for food, harvesting and transporting, liquid containers, sieves, chicken coups, fishing, strainers, filters, granaries, mats, snares and fish traps. Woven materials were also employed as; ornaments, children’s toys, boats, assorted furniture, fashion skirts, loincloths, raincoats, shoes, hats, helmets, shields, purses, combs, headdresses, dowry, ceremonial tools, currency and even for burial.

Basketry is the art of creating woven objects especially containers using plant-based materials such as leaves, grasses, stalks, bamboo strips, tree barks, split rattan lengths, rashes, roots, acrylic threads, polyurethane strips, and plastic- or man-made materials such as plastics coated wires. Decoration was made from beads and dyes made from roots, leaves, fruits, vegetables, spices, animal waste as well as synthetic sources were used by artisans  to decorate the baskets

Africa is endowed with tremendous basketry products designed and crafted to meet the various needs of the societies that evolved them. Chad, Ethiopia, Ghana, Cameroon, Somalia, Congo regions, central and Eastern Sudanese districts and the cultures of the Great Rift Valley are all reputed for crafting exquisitely fine and subtle basket wares, with complex decorations for diverse uses. The strategies and key success factors discussed below are applicable not only to the basketry industry but other cottage industries that rely on artisans and groups for products. Other handicrafts that are produced by similar groups and cottage industries where the same marketing and key success tips apply include but are not limited to;

  • Pottery
  • Wood carving
  • Bone carving
  • Leather work
  • Jewelry
  • Tree bark products

People are always looking for containers to store staff and for decorative items for the house. Basket weaving is a great business opportunity as baskets are versatile and is a market both locally and internationally. There are numerous women groups who have specialised in the art and it is possible to work with different groups to supply such baskets and other woven items like lampshades,  trays and mats amongst other. No one handcrafted item is exactly the same making  each  item special. Depending on how the business is structured each item can be bespoke.

With the advent of technology and online selling, it is possible to  get orders and sell your products online and through consignment sales in  stores that sell baskets and other woven  products. A good designer will keep the flow of new designs going and will also be able to create client designs.


Design; As with other talent based businesses the creative ability of the designers will be crucial for the success of the business. Woven items while functional are also decorative items and good unique design is crucial to the success of your business.

Product Quality; After developing designs it is important to ensure each and every item produced is of the highest quality. Handicrafts tend not  to be standardised and it is important for a business to ensure that the quality of product your clients get each and every time is the same and is not compromised.

Product Range; Ensure you have a reasonable range of products that can be distributed through your  distribution channels. Good stock management will be important alongside this to ensure there is dead stock and products are bought even as they are produced.

Distribution; Tap into various distribution channels. This can include consignment sales,  online, upholstery, real estate and interior decorators all provide a platform for distribution of your products.

Production Cost; Handcrafted processes tend to have low efficiency as individuals are normally not very well trained. It is, therefore, important to carefully check the whole production process and streamline it to ensure there is little wastage through the production process. One  is also able to manage costs through the sourcing process. The goal is buying in bulk,  from the most well-priced suppliers without compromising quality and delivery time.

Exports; taking advantage of different trade agreements available in the continent like AGOA can make a big difference in the volume  you are able to sell. Different countries have different trade agreements with African Nations. Do some research with the trade office of the country you are targeting to find out what specific requirements are necessary if your are to export from your country.

The greatest challenge for business in this sector is product copies from other countries. For example Ghanaian artifacts have been copied in Bali while Kenyan basketry copied in China. This means there is a need for continuous and fast innovation where the artwork is considered more as an exclusive product not targeted for the mass market. A lot of research into markets and incorporating extrinsic skills from other sectors will help create products that are uncommon.


There are numerous opportunities in this sector as Africans continue to present their art to the world. Most handicrafts are inspired by traditions of a people as is evident with designs of baskets and artifacts from different parts of the continent. In the modern age this means there is immense opportunity to innovate from all aspect of the business; supply, design and even production process and structure.

Supply; While keeping an eye on cost, the choice of suppliers and inputs used to design a product can be changed. Where grass was used, for example, there is the possibility of using hyacinth or other products which may be more easily available depending on where you are located. Change in input could also result in a change in use. For example, where a product was only used as a decorative item, it can then be used as a functional item. This totally depends on the finishing applied to the product. Often people are not able to use a product because it is too delicate to be used as was originally intended in a particular culture. By ensuring the quality is good, you would be able to supply more as people will be able to use the product not just look at it.

Training & Design; That is if you are good at coming up with new designs.  Most of the producers of handicrafts and baskets are women groups who do this not necessarily because they enjoy what they do but so that they can earn extra income. By coming up with new designs, you can build a business training women groups in handicrafts and perfecting skills of individual groups. Women’s associations can get you in touch with different groups in your region. You can couple this with marketing if the groups you train have no market for their product.

Marketing; Where groups have no access to a marketer out of their locality, there is an opportunity to make market linkages. You will need to be strict on the quality of product and may have to develop your own packaging and branding. This requires a very good understanding of the consumer market and the process of production as all this goes into ensuring you have a product you can sell. Some marketers only have a shell of a product done by artisans and train a different set of people to do the finishing to ensure each product is of the highest quality. This tends to shorten production time and keep trade secrets in house.

Being a marketer requires that you are able to assure outlets that you can supply the volumes they need and to specific standards. Most of these will be small independent stores where 70% of the artifact are sold and supermarkets and department stores. In the beginning, it is wise to keep your product simple as this will reduce the possibility of defects. Explore the possibility of selling online as there are numerous online shops that specialise in handicrafts.

For more information on such marketplace click here. Have a look at our Arts page if you are dealing in glass or fine art.


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