Suitcase Importing Pays for Your Travel…and Anyone Can Do It

When I exhibit my wares at markets and fairs, customers I speak to are as often enthralled by what I do as they are fascinated by the folk art I sell.

They’ll tell me, “What you do looks like so much fun!” And the truth is…it is. I travel throughout Latin America looking for unique examples of folk art that I can purchase and carry back home to sell at a profit. I frequently get to visit world-renowned artists in remote Mexican villages, the bustling night market in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and the colonial UNESCO World Heritage site of Antigua, Guatemala.

My business, Global Hands Artisans, works directly with artisans in countries where I travel. Our mission is “Bridging the World Through Art,” with the goal of helping artisans by creating markets for their work.

I began importing folk art 13 years ago, after dreaming about doing it for years, and being encouraged by friends. There are many different kinds of importers, including those who work with large-scale manufacturers, or with companies that ship directly to clients, or who specialize in one product line or work only online.

But what my customers don’t often realize is that anyone can do it. It doesn’t take a degree or even an extensive knowledge of folk art. All it takes are a few personal attributes that you might already have.

First, successful importers love to travel and are open to adventures. Travel is a necessary part of our lives, and we look for “off the tourist trail” opportunities. We seek villages and hunt for people and places that might be good sources. I recall having a name and partial address in an obscure Mexican village and a driver who was as determined to locate the artisan as I was. We eventually did.

Second, importers are eager to talk with strangers, asking questions trying to locate artisans. On our travels we talk to anyone and everyone—at fairs, markets, small shops, and hotels—who might point us toward exciting new discoveries.

Third, importers have entrepreneurial passion. We are able to work on our own and push ourselves to create a new business. We have a strong desire to succeed with whatever they do.

Fourth, small business importers are creative people. We figure out ways to market and sell the art. We are able to demonstrate ways to show first-time buyers how to incorporate ethnic art into their homes, and we can enthusiastically share the stories of the artisans, bringing their work to life.

There are other business aspects an importer will learn or acquire in order to be successful, such as figuring out shipping, setting up an office, and researching countries, artisans, and legalities. Of course, all of these aspects matter. But to be successful as a folk art importer, passion about the artisans and their art drives one to travel, to talk, to build, to create, to sell, and to keep on working toward their success. Passion drives your success.

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