People, Travel

A Visit to Handicraft Shops

A Visit to Handicraft ShopsA Visit to Handicraft Shops

Of all the crafts identified around the world, approximately 350 exist in Iran, according to the Persian daily Iran.

In every corner of Iran, there are artistic hands at work, creating invaluable objects. With a few thousand years of experience in handicrafts as a background, Iran is an industrious rival to reckon with.

Experts believe Iran can be ranked among the top 3 countries in handicrafts industry; but facts tell a different story: Iran is in fact the 31st country in handicrafts export.

This obvious failure is attributed to economic challenges, lack of insurance for artisans, an inadequate tourism industry, lack of government support, failure in marketing and promotion, and finally the surge in import of various cheap foreign commodities, especially Chinese goods.

A visit to Villa (Nejatollahi) street, south of Karim Khan Blvd, Tehran gives us firsthand information on the handicrafts market.

  Hard Years for Handicrafts

On Villa Street, there is a large store whose window displays many beautiful Persian handicrafts. The shop owner is Ali Abdollahi. He has been in the job for 25 years, after his father and his grandfather. “My father handed over the shop to me, expecting me to cherish the business like my own child.” Some 60 workshops are supporting the store; nevertheless, Abdollahi admits that the handicrafts of the country have been through tough times.

Many handicraft workers have no insurance. Often they do not receive their due share for their work. The government lets foreign goods flood into the country. No matter how much one works; there is no appreciation. The only thing keeping the artisans at work, is the love of their job, Abdollahi said.

Though advertisement runs rampant in the country, featuring snacks, foods, detergents, cars, home appliances, etc, there is no mention of crafted goods in billboards or the media. “The officials rest on their laurels, saying our crafts are famous.” Iran has a hard job competing with countries like China, India, Egypt, Pakistan, and even Afghanistan, where advertisement and marketing has paved the way for handicrafts.

Persian crafts are challenged by Chinese, Indian, and Pakistani artifacts that are offered at relatively low prices. The situation worsens when the price of Persian crafts differs from store to store in the two streets of Villa and Taleqani. This price discrepancy raises distrust among potential customers.

  Most Popular

The enamel works of Isfahan and Shiraz, cashmeres, and inlaid woods are among the most popular works of Abdollahi’s shop.

Most Persian handicraft exports are destined for Persian Gulf countries and Iraq, yet Iranians in Europe, US, and Canada are enthusiasts of Persian handicrafts. Shiraz, Isfahan, Sanandaj, and Zanjan are among the top handicraft producers; each is among the best in what it offers. Zanjan is best in handmade knives; the most exquisite cashmeres are found in Kurdistan and Ardebil; for the best enamel works, one should go to Isfahan or Shiraz; and wood inlay is the pride of Yazd.

There are about 50 handicrafts shops on Villa Street. The prices in Villa are somewhat higher than those in Taleqani Street. The customers coming to Villa are considered wealthier, and as for foreign tourists, it appears they are there for sightseeing. If they do buy any handicrafts, they would rather do so in the cities like Isfahan and Shiraz, where good memories accompany the souvenirs.

  Persian Crafts

There are places where craftsmen produce handicrafts before the public. Goods, produced on site, are in high demand; even if the price is two or three times higher than the norm. There is one major problem with this: foreign credit cards do not work in Iran, no matter how much is at a traveler’s disposal, Abdollahi noted, believing that the airports are good places to solve such problems.

Shahidi runs another shop on Villa Street. He says exquisite crafts are sought by very few people. Besides, the artisans do not get paid much for their work. Persian woodworks are rare and shadowed by Indian, Chinese, and African crafts, even if the imports are of polyester, in which case the profit reaches 200%.

“An inlaid box may cost $11; but even at this meager price, the box stays in the shop and gathers dust. A few days ago, as bread prices rose, our handicrafts producer informed us of the decision to raise the price by 15%. This is exactly what we want: ‘raising the price’, but we already lack customers. All in all, when compared to 3 years ago, handicrafts market is not in a good shape,” Shahidi said.

Often, tourists from Malaysia, India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan seek inexpensive crafts which can be bought with a couple of dollars. Sometimes, a low price can give customers the wrong idea that the craft in question lacks quality, as is the case with table cloths, cushions, cashmeres, stone figurines, and inlay works.

Generally, maybe 40% of people can afford to buy handicrafts; the rest just do window shopping, sometimes venturing in to ask the price. Nearly 90% of the crafts available in shops are homemade; the remaining is mainly from China, India, and Africa. The Chinese ceramic works are in demand for their intricacy, Shahidi said.

This year, pottery has become trendy. Some tourists are more interested in glassware and ‘Shah-Abbasi’ style vessels, especially those from Persian Gulf littoral countries.

About 2 months ago, the handicrafts deputy at Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Organization said that due to the surge of foreign tourists, Isfahan’s handicrafts market saw a boost by 30%.