High-school student helps Kenyan artisans sell their handicrafts in China

Source:Global Times – Agencies Published: 2018/12/13 19:53:40

"If I could bring their products to China, perhaps the future of several families will turn better than before because of my efforts," Wu Xunpu said.

Wu is a 16-year-old high-school student in Shanghai, East China. However, in the place half a world away, he is known as "Boss Wu."

Wu's father used to be a timber dealer, mainly dealing African wood. Because of his father's experience in Africa, Wu considered the continent to be "dangerous" and "insecure" before he actually visited Nairobi, capital of Kenya, East Africa, during Christmas 2017, according to an article written by Wu published on Chinahouse, a Sina-Weibo account.

"I did some digging through the local handicrafts during my first visit to Kenya, and got to know their characteristics," Wu said.

"Although these handicrafts are not as exquisite and standardized as those from assembly lines, and even look rough in appearance, they are of explicit African style," Wu said. "The African people express their passion by these artistic creations."

In the meantime, Wu also realized that it is hard for these handicraftsmen to improve their life, even if they work more than 12 hours a day in their dreary workshops.

Therefore, Wu came up with the idea of establishing a sales platform for the local handicraftsmen to sell their works to China and hew out a broader market for them.

Wu Xunpu interviews local wood carving handicraftsmen during his second visit to Africa.Photo: Courtesy of Wu Xunpu

After his first trip to Kenya, Wu started analyzing the feasibility of selling African handicrafts in China from a business perspective. He published the results on The China Africa Project, a multimedia resource dedicated to exploring every aspect of China's growing engagement with Africa.

Based on the analysis, Wu developed a method and procedures for establishing a China-Africa fair trade platform. "'Fair' means buyers contact with sellers directly without brokers exploiting the difference in pricing," Wu said.

Wu said the profit made from the platform will be returned to the handicraftsmen after covering operation expenses and costs, allowing them to enjoy as much profit as possible.

In the first half of 2018, Wu did a survey on Chinese people's attitude and preference on African handicrafts via questionnaires and interviews. "After hearing my plan, teachers and classmates offered me many helpful suggestions," Wu said.

"With these preparations, I visited Kenya, again. This time, I was aiming at promoting business cooperation under the name 'Boss Wu.'"

"During my second trip to Nairobi, I had a clearer target, which is seeking proper products and cooperation partners for the fair trade platform."

During the two-week trip, Wu decided that African blackwood carvings and ox bone kitchen wares would be the first batch of items to be sold on the platform.

Under the guidance of a local wood carving seller, Wu visited a handicraft workshop located in a suburb of Nairobi with more than 100 workers, and got to know the process of making a wood carving.

"The workshop is very simple and shabby, and people are crowded in the thatch shacks," Wu said.

During the interview, Wu met a young boy who had to work in the wood carving workshop to support his two younger brothers since he was 12 years old. He also met a father who worked hard to provide his son a better working environment, so that the boy could escape the fate of working in the workshop.

"After getting to know such stories, the wood carving in my hand becomes warmer," said Wu.

Wu decided to cooperate with Franas, a local handicraftsman with more than 20 years' working experience. Franas works over 10 hours a day with a salary as low as 600 yuan ($87) a month.

Franas was full of expectations after hearing the operation model of the fair trade platform.

"I really hope my work could be sold to China, and I think I will make more animal figures that Chinese people are fond of."

"What's funny is that as the son of a timber dealer, I never had any knowledge about the characteristics of different woods when I was in China, but now I have became a timber expert," Wu said.

Wu is selecting goods for the China-Africa fair trade platform. Photo: Courtesy of Wu Xunpu

With excellent textures, African blackwood is an indigenous hardwood in Africa. Compared with regular wood, this wood is not easily eroded, and the carvings made from African blackwood are more durable and easy to preserve. "When I put a piece of heavy African wood in my palm, watching its color, I understood the fondness people have for this wood."

Besides blackwood carvings, ox bone kitchen wares are also traded on the platform. Made from the bones of oxen, these kitchen wares are hard and resist corrosion, with an adorable appearance.

"Non-governmental organizations from Europe and the US have helped the local people sell their products to countries in America and Europe," said Wu. "I am the first to sell these kitchen wares to China."

While the introduction of blackwood carvings is more decided by the market, bringing in ox bone kitchen wares is because Wu wants to help people living in the slums.

In the interview, Wu got to know the story of a female designer who supports the entire family all by herself, and a father who struggles to support his son in college.

Now Wu has come back to China with stories and handicrafts collected in Africa. He has made a cooperation plan with his African partners, and contacted with a courier company that offers him a reasonable price to guarantee the long-term operation of the trade platform.

"I never felt establishing the China-Africa fair trade platform is a great or noble idea. It's just a business win-win," said Wu. "I really enjoy the process of helping local African handicraftsmen to sell their works to China, which is complicated and difficult, but I have achieved a lot."
Newspaper headline: Teenage boss


Posted in: PROFILE

blog comments powered by Disqus