Pelican operators holding on to legacy
Business at the Pelican Village Craft Centre has been on the decline over the past decade, more so since the start of the global recession.
And small business operators there are anxiously waiting to see what Minister of Industry, Small Business and Rural Development Denis Kellman and the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) will do for Pelican Village following their recent tour of the centre.
Some of the craftsmen and women said they were concerned that imported products were taking precedence in what was once considered a place for local craft items.
They also expressed fear that the craft centre may, one day, not “remain in the hands of” local craftspeople – something they say could force the old tradition of basketry and other woven products out of existence on the island.
Jefferson Skinner is the operator of T’ings Bajan, offering a wide variety of products over the past seven years. He told BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY he believed that Kellman was “already familiar” with their concerns and he will be waiting patiently to see what will be done to address those concerns.
For this entrepreneur, business has been moderate and he remains optimistic about the future.
“They need to make sure that Pelican Village remains in the hands of the craftspeople in Barbados,” he said.
“About 40 years ago when it was recognized that mothers on welfare were unable to make ends meet, they started to teach basketry, and it is as a result of that that lots of people were able to take a step out of poverty,” Skinner explained.
He said Pelican Village was one place in Barbados that was “representative of the ability of people being able to use their hands and move up” the economic ladder.
“Pelican Village should forever remain in the hands of the craftspeople – not craft sellers, but the craftspeople of Barbados,” he reiterated.
“It is a legacy for future generations that you don’t have to be a lawyer or doctor but that you can take a simple piece of straw and send your children to school and you can own a home from doing things with your hands.
“In these [hard] economic times, people should use their hands to do productive things because if we don’t have people doing productive things, they are going to do other things.”
He said the greatest challenge for him was to get customers, mainly tourists from cruise ships, to patronize his business.
Gloria Gaskin argued that people who were making the items from local grass were being pushed out of the market because the imported products were taking root and being sold cheaper. She blamed the BIDC.
Gaskin is the operator of Ann’s Craft Shop. She has been making and selling local craft items for the past 20 years.
“You see these,” she said, pointing to the straw she used to make baskets, bags and other items, “we have cottage workers in the country that does work and come in on a Friday with the material for us to use and nobody at BIDC is helping those people anymore.
“The people plait this and they come in every weekend and we buy it from them. The BIDC is not interested in this material anymore; the people over at Pelican Village are interested in this Chinese material. All they are interested in is the jewellery,” she argued.
Boasting that her business has been featured in a number of publications around the world, Gaskin said she and other old-fashioned local craft makers were bringing in foreign exchange, not sending it out.
During his tour, Kellman said he had “a better feeling so far of the problems associated with the vendors and small businesspeople” in Pelican Village and would be taking steps to address those concerns.
He also identified improper marketing as one of the challenges facing the facility – something he said his ministry, BIDC and the vendors were responsible for.
Barbados Manufacturers’ Association (BMA) executive director Bobbi McKay said she was aware that competition was very stiff for small craftspeople.
“You have craft in the port, a lot of which is not made in Barbados, and it really saddens me to see that. They are not authentic.
“You also have some of the retailers who have agents encouraging tourists to go straight to Bridgetown to spend money in town. But at the end of the day the craftspeople here have genuine Barbadiana and in any way possible I would like to see them get the support,” she pleaded.
Besides baskets, bags and hats, vendors in the Pelican, St Michael facility offers a wide variety of souvenir options such as clothing, photography, glass items, jewellery and local food and beverages.
McKay said she was hoping that the planned expansion of the Barbados Port would bring more business to the local craft village. In the meantime, however, she said she wanted to see “a stronger programme to ensure that the authentic craft is improved”.
“When a cruise ship comes to the Caribbean, every island offers something similar; we need to be unique, we need to be different and we need to pick the pocket, literally, of the tourists.
“I think there are programmes and a lot of potential. I just want to see it forthcoming.
“Pelican Village should be a showcase supported by Barbadians looking for gift items. The tourists can be the gravy, but Barbadians should be shopping from the Pelican Village as well.”