Roma means human
Bucharest | Romania
Quite a few people advised us to go to Mesteshukar ButiQ: “If you look for examples of real social enterprise in Romania, this is the case”.
We are part of a larger organization, Roma Boutique, which was founded in 2011 with the idea of creating a network of Roma craftsmen – says Andrei M. Georgescu, founder of MBQ. It actually came from a Roma craftsman himself, an iron smith. He realized being an ironsmith is a big part of culture and his own identity. By losing the craft he loses a very big part of himself. He started to wonder how that is going around the country, how it is for other families, people, is crafts surviving there or slowly disappearing? He started to research Roma craft in 6 from 8 largest regions in the country. It wasn’t easy to find craftsmen. Sometimes we would go to isolated villages and just ask around if people knew any iron smith. We managed to find contacts of almost 500 people, craftsmen from all over the country and the idea was to help them to create a legal framework to work and sell their products.
They needed help especially since 2010 when the law changed, making it impossible for individual craftsmen to sell without opening a proper business with all documents and invoices involved.
Even the materials they need to buy with invoices, but most people find them somewhere or buy second hand or buy too small amounts to really get an invoice. One of the solutions for that is creating cooperatives, but people had very bad memories with cooperatives after the communist time, they don’t want to try again. We decided that maybe it’s better to work with families, we help them with opening the business, with accounting, with producing and selling products. That’s what we started to do in 2011 and it took us 2 years to realize that there is a huge problem with their products. They are outdated, low quality and people just don’t want to buy them. We realized we need to change designs. We didn’t want to change people’s crafts. We wanted to use skills they have to make new products. We got some designers from Sweden and Austria, later on also from Romania, and we did what you see here, in the shop.
For some of the craftsmen changing their traditional designs was not really an easy task.
Some of them don’t understand why they should work so much more for quite a similar thing. You need more effort for new products. It was a struggle at the beginning but now it’s normal for them, we come with designers and they are willing to try. They realized it will not last if we don’t change something.
Another challenge is sustainability.
There are two parts of this challenge. One is to be able to sustain a stable amount of orders per craftsman, which means a stable amount of money going to production. That is directly connected to the shop. Winter is dead, summer is much better. But for 3 months there is almost no activity. And it influences us, we cannot order without selling. And the second part are the craftsmen themselves. The first thing that they really need to do is to provide to their families. And that's a very immediate need that they have. It’s hard to build long term projects. It could happen that they cannot fulfill our orders because they are working on the field, where they can get money the same day. We have to adapt to this. And understand them.
Understanding Roma people and culture is one of the purposes of the whole project, although when you enter the shop, in the first moment you don’t see anything which tells you: those are things prepared by Roma people.
We don’t try to make it immediately connected to any ethnic minority. We don’t want to make any pity sensation. We don’t put pictures with poor children on walls, it’s not what we sell. The idea is that people come because they like the products. And then when they hear the story, we hope they may change perspective. Number one stereotype about Roma, at least in Romania, is that they don’t want to work. It's a very pragmatic and tangible way to fight against it. This is work. They produce all those things. We want to show people another side of the story compared to what you can see in the tabloid media.
“Roma” in Roma language means “human”. And it’s this human relation which motivates Andrei and others to keep going.
My driving force is the relationship that I have personally with all craftsmen involved. And then also… a kind of ambition that you manage to change something, challenge something. And lately it has a lot to do with finding other people doing similar things. We started to search for other social enterprises in Romania. We see what they managed to do and it proves we are not an isolated case. There are so many successful stories. Now, we want to bring to the shop more products from other social enterprises and promote all of them so people understand that it’s not just us. It’s not just MBQ, it’s more, much more, it’s everywhere, maybe you have to just search a bit, look around.
But it’s not always easy to look around. A lot of us are stuck in our daily lives, forgetting how much there is to learn, to discover.
I think a lot of people just finish university and go for a stable job, good life. That’s a good thing but sometimes they don’t have a chance to stop and think about what is happening. You finish university, get a job and you are there, you can’t stop, to look, to observe. In some sense I would like to help those people as well. To step back and realize: I can also use my skills somewhere else. Get involved in something. You have to do something, even as a hobby… I think that’s how people learn. Most people don’t know what they want from life. You shouldn’t come to traps to be too comfortable in your life, to not have time to try new things and get involved, discover what you really like. I think that when you are good at something, you will succeed. If you do something, you really need to like it. And really do it. Otherwise, you just get frustrated.