Mesteshukar ButiQ – Social Entrepreneurship Meets Great Design
It’s hard to tell how many Roma people actually live in Romania. During the last census, up to two thirds of them decided not to declare their ethnicity. So, according to some sources, anywhere between 600,000 and 2 million Roma have the Romanian citizenship. After many centuries of tumultuous history, many of them still face a series of problems, including unemployment, discrimination, criminality and lack of opportunities. One could write entire volumes just about the causes and complex social interactions that led to this situation.
But Mesteshukar ButiQ decided instead to do something about it. And this is how one of the best know Romanian social businesses was launched. The founders said they were inspired by the story of a young Roma man, coming from a family of craftsmen. However, the secrets of the trade were lost before his generation, and he was hardly unique in his situation. In fact, many of the traditional crafts the Roma used to engage in to make a living are now endangered – jewelry and clothes production, metal work (especially copper), and many others.
The team behind Mestehukar ButiQ decided such traditions should not go to waste, but instead should cross into the new economy and ensure the livelihood of craftsmen all around the country. And while doing this important work, they hoped they would change a few mentalities along the way too.
The idea was simple – get craftsmen to create products such as copper pots, jewelry or home deco items and then sell them to design enthusiasts who simply want something beautiful in their homes. With support from a series of partners and companies who saw the value of the project, the social enterprise was soon ready to go, opening a store in Bucharest and participating in numerous design events and fairs in Romania and abroad. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, the clients enjoying the diversity of the products (chairs, pots, jewelry, clothes, etc), their uniqueness, the traditional feel and also the story they tell. But the most important aspect is that the products are well crafted and worth every penny, as Andrei Georgescu, the manager of the company explains:
“The idea is… this is not charity, this is not pity. This is what people should understand about this chain. Starting with the client, who needs to understand they should be exigent. And that they should enjoy the objects, like them and use them. The products should be high quality. And also the craftsmen. They need to know and expect to be paid fairly for their work and also that they need to make the effort somehow to put enough time into the product to make it high quality. The products should last for a long time, like they used to in the old times”
The store became popular fast, offering an ethical and quite unique alternative to travelers looking for a gift or a souvenir, including visitors from New York Times. The business expanded over the three years since its inception, involving over 7 designers and 18 craftsmen, several of whom are directly employed by Mesteshukar ButiQ, while others being collaborators with their own small companies. This is another great thing about the company – it helps create other entrepreneurs!
And as the cooperation with designers for the development of several collections proved to be a strong point for the company, they also decided to launch a design competition dedicated to improving the look and functionality of the space in which they operate. The results showed once again what good design can accomplish.
For the future, the plans are of course, ambitious, as they should be. The team plans to open a store in Vienna, to involve more designers and of course, more craftsmen. But most of all, to make the world a little fairer in the process.