Ever wonder what it would be like to work with foreign suppliers, especially as diverse as Bali, Indonesia? The Balinese culture is unique in many ways, but more importantly, its' people had a test of survival after becoming victims of terrorism in 2002 and Jakarta in 2004.
Recognizing the Balinese children may not even attend school became the concern for Trudy McConnell, an art museum fundraiser who happened to be visiting Bali on a diving trip.
McConnell's dive master took her to the family's village high in the mountains. "It was clear they were struggling. On his family compound everyone wove baskets in the evenings." In fact, an uncle was the only medical person in the village for miles and worked on the barter system.
In that moment, McConnell decided to spend every dollar she had to buy as many baskets as possible. McConnell said, "On a handshake, he promised to keep the children of the village in school and I promised to send money every month for one year."
As Bali's economy has since rebounded, the children want to leave the rural village and head for the bright lights of Dempensar, Bali's capital. So McConnell's mission now is to help preserve the rural village culture she visited outside of Ubud, dating back to the 11th Century, for primarily its' art of weaving Ate grass, a forest grass that is dried and cured over coconut embers. McConnell formed a company Dewi Collection to design unique handbags using these hand-woven techniques while supporting the local Balinese culture.
To work with the people of Bali, like any foreign culture, is a learning experience. Trusting the people you are working with, understanding the culture, and overcoming language barriers, can go a long way to preserving the priceless work of artisans. McConnell offers some practical tips and suggestions to work with suppliers in Bali and some of these standard practices may also apply to other countries.
Where to find artisans in Bali:
Ubud is known as the cultural hub, located in central Bali, where many of Balinese arts and crafts are produced.
Understand Balinese culture:
Do like the natives. Sit and work with them, suggests McConnell, because it is inspiring as everyone works together. Balinese will spend an entire day in artistic endeavors, whether it is weaving, sewing beads, or hand carving wooden trinkets. Balinese are laid back compared to their western counterparts, but that is what makes the culture it is today.
Think sustainability. The Ate grass grows along cultivated rice fields. The Balinese only take what they need and preserve for the future.
Hire a local general manager. To help coordinate production, shipping, and money exchange, it is best to have someone on the ground in Bali. McConnell visits Bali every year and has close ties to the people she works with.
Communicate online with Balinese:
Email and text messaging. Email and texting are the primary means for McConnell to communicate quickly with the general manager in Bali. To answer any questions or to follow up with production, the Internet based services are readily available.
Web conferencing. Skype is used as the online meeting tool to talk about product designs and collaborate further with the Balinese artisans. McConnell will send a sketch or picture, and she says, the Balinese are able to take the concept design and make it so much better.
Plan a production schedule:
Holidays. It's important to work with the Balinese calendar. The Balinese enjoy up to 45 holidays during the year, according to McConnell. "This really throws off the production calendar, but the beauty of the Balinese culture is what I love! They are like family to me." says, McConnell.
Lead time. Enjoy the holidays, but understand your production schedule will be longer. Typically, McConnell plans a lead time of three months for the artisans to produce the Dewi Collection handbags.
Time zones. Observe differences in time zones and then schedule your day around your supplier. Bali is located in the Central Indonesian Time Zone, often called WITA (Waktu Indonesia Tengah).
To work with her Balinese supplier, McConnell has to plan a 12-hour schedule ahead of her normal day. The time difference gives McConnell four hours in the morning to work with or a couple late night hours.
Shipping. McConnell ships by the container load. Shipped goods will take about two months from foreign port to destination.
The overall delivery of finished goods is about six months, which includes design, production schedule, and shipping.
Deal with exchange rate:
The Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) is the observed exchange rate in central Bali. McConnell works closely with her general manager to pay suppliers and they work together to ensure the exchange money is good for both the client and supplier.