Increasing Value for the Mauritian Handicraft and Design Sector Through Sustainability

How might we design and produce crafts in Mauritius that are sustainable, authentic and successful while also being integrated into the entire tourism value chain? We explored this question with 15 local Mauritian Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) that produce handmade and designed objects for tourists and local consumers. The SMEs were a diverse group of producers ranging from fashion, accessories, food and beverages, care products, books, and 3D printed coral reefs.

Handicraft objects, accessories or packaged food items are popular souvenirs to take home from the places we visit. In many places in the world traditional crafts are now being imported from far away to provide a cheap bulk of souvenirs that are neither rooted to the place nor done with the care that comes from local entrepreneurs and artisans. The result for the tourist is that the items start to all look the same and don’t carry the intrinsic value of handmade objects. For the local economy it means a great loss, too: communities don’t have viable businesses and there is a long-term loss of skills.

To counter this trend, the Sustainable Island Mauritius project wants to support local artisans and designers (SMEs) by increasing the value and success of their products through increasing their sustainability, storytelling and collaboration.

To have the best possible impact we teamed up with Made in Moris, the Mauritian label for high quality local products. Made in Moris has years of experience working with over 350 local brands in the field of handicrafts and other products, know the local challenges of small and medium-sized producers as well as the challenges of a small island state where local resources are scarce and moving to a circular economy is essential.

In a five-session workshop held online over five weeks in May and June 2021, we dived deep into the topics of values and positive impacts the brands want to have on the island, circular design principles, international trends as well as international and local best practices, customer journeys and storytelling. The brands were engaged from day one through interactive session, exercises and weekly assignments encouraging the prototyping of their new insights and ideas.

The workshop series fostered new innovative product ideas by pairing up the brands to ideate on new ideas of joint creations with sustainability goals in mind: how might we create awareness on the unique Mauritian ecosystem? How might we foster a habit of reading in children? How might we create new products from (each-other’s) waste?

Tackling not only their own business sustainability and value proposition but also focussing on the overarching goal of creating a more sustainable island, the brands now have the opportunity to collaborate with local hotels and tour operators on achieving this aim in creative ways.

Imagine local fashion designers would create rooms and spaces in the hotels that are entirely upcycled from the hotels material’s that would have otherwise gone to landfills (sheets, towels, uniforms, etc) and sharing that story with the customers.

Imagine the hotels’ broken glass bottles could be recycled by a glass studio into beautiful glass pearls to offer jewellery-making workshops for the visitors to enjoy a creative experience while taking full advantage of the resources available.

Imagine the local tour operator taking visitors to a Mauritian tea farm where they pick their own mix of herb tea, enjoy an herb-induced lunch onsite and take home a sustainable package of the local organic tea.

Imagine the vulnerable coral reefs can be seen, touched and explained by using 3D replica reefs in hotels or onsite to locals as well as tourists to create awareness and foster behaviours to protect the actual reefs.

After concluding our workshop series, the Sustainable Island Mauritius project team had the opportunity to pitch ideas and offer a facilitated pilot co-creation product development process to the 50 hotels and tour operators that are part of a webinar series for their sector, also conducted by the project.

The next step is to empower local SME’s not only on the topics covered by the workshop series but to support the co-creation of new sustainable products within the larger tourism ecosystem. This creates a blue print for collaboration and innovation processes to be scaled-up in the future.

“It’s been very inspiring and eye-opening to work with Nikola Berger and her team at Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP). The fact that we were involved in designing the workshop led to a tailor-made approach and resulted in more impactful sessions for our members. The CSCP’s team took the time to benchmark local Mauritian brands which made it relevant and relatable for our participants. We appreciated the hands-on approach and the interactive sessions which contributed to the success of the workshop.” – Shirin Gunny, Managing Director of Made in Moris.

To learn more about the project, visit the Sustainable Island Mauritius website or download the brochure.

If you are interested in our work with the handicraft sector, please contact Nikola Berger, Head of Creative & Communication.