parsons school of design reveals research indicating
artisan sector does not guarantee a living wage

Parsons Development through Empowerment, Entrepreneurship and Design (DEED) Lab
and EcoSessions Release Groundbreaking Study

DEED Fieldwork

Development through Empowerment, Entrepreneurship, and Design summer 2010 fieldwork in Santiago Zamora. (Photo/Cynthia Lawson)

NEW YORK (February 5, 2015) - The New School’s Parsons School of Design announces the findings of a groundbreaking research study investigating the pricing and fairness within the artisan sector. The study was done through a partnership between Parsons Development through Empowerment, Entrepreneurship and Design (DEED) Lab and EcoSessions, a global storytelling platform that connects designers, industry + consumers to discuss change.

“We interviewed 120 artisan enterprises around the world to discover what is a ‘fair’ wage,” said Cynthia Lawson, Associate Professor of Integrated Design at Parsons and head of DEED Lab. “This study reveals that while most people think they are supporting artisans by buying crafts, the reality is that there is little transparency in payment, leading to unfair wages.”

Professor Lawson has collaborated with Kate Black from EcoSessions in groundbreaking research on ‘what is fair’ titled FairCraft. The research is an investigation on pricing and fairness in the artisan sector.

Conducted by the DEED Lab at Parsons, between November 2014-January 2015, the 20 question survey asked brands and designers who work with artisans specifically “How they pay” to uncover if artisans are earning a living wage.

Top line data:

  • Over 120 artisan enterprises (working in Africa, Asia and the Americas) were surveyed or interviewed
  • Great variety of payment practices across responses
  • 74% of respondents indicated paying artisans per product (not per hour), with many sharing uncertainty about the bottom-line hourly wage.
  • As to who decides how much artisans should earn, 26% of respondents rely on artisan input, while 60% do it collaboratively.
  • 85% of enterprises have some mechanism in place to ensure payment goes to artisan (the other 15% rely on middlemen).

The International Labour Organization (ILO) considers a living wage a human right*. With growing focus on the artisan sector from brands in the fashion and homeware industries, this research will open a dialogue on how various companies and organizations tackle the challenges and opportunities of the sector.

An abstract of the research will be unveiled at Parsons The New School on Thursday February 5. In addition to the research, Tara St James, a local fashion designer will share ‘Conversations in Craft’ a visual presentation of sweatshirts embroidered in Peru, Afghanistan, and the USA with a fixed dollar amount of $24 to cover labor costs. The discrepancy in wages will be evident visually in the amount of the embroidery pattern completed by each country.            Followed by a panel discussion with survey respondents from: EILEEN FISHER, Tilonia, Global Goods Partners and Chamuchic who will share their insights on the some of the themes raised in the study, to be moderated by Kate Black.        

“EcoSessions is a bridge of designers and enterprises working towards more ethical, and in this case, fair practises in their productions and offerings to consumers,” said Kate Black, founder of EcoSessions and “It fits our mandate to ensure that a cross-section of global enterprises were included.”


DEED (Development through Empowerment, Entrepreneurship, and Design) is a research laboratory at Parsons The New School for Design, The New School, New York City. We are committed to modeling more sustainable and equitable ways for artisans and designers to collaborate and have a threefold mission: To support artisans in emerging economies in the creation and sustaining of income-generating craft-based opportunities; create meaningful outside-of-the-classroom learning opportunities for our students, and to empower them to become agents of change; to run collaborations between the university and artisans, through on-campus courses and fieldwork programs, which are committed to horizontal pedagogical and organizational structures. DEED is a collaborative effort by students and faculty from across several divisions of The New School, artisan groups in emerging economies, foundations, individual donors, retailers, external partners, and friends.

Created by writer and author Kate Black (of Magnifeco), EcoSessions are a global storytelling platform that connects designers, industry + consumers to discuss change. Past events include: Made in Africa (NY), a half day conference at F.I.T. that addressed the growing challenges faced by designers bridging African products with North American audiences; Slow Fashion (BERLIN), featuring slow fashion trends in Berlin; Ethical Retailing (NY), conversations with the leading ethical fashion retailers on the challenges and opportuniteis working within the growing niche.

Designer Tara St James of Study NY, runner up in CFDA/Lexus Eco-Fashion Challenge, is using the visual medium of fashion to spark a conversation about labor issues, artisan craft collaboration and the value of workmanship through her Conversations in Craft Project debuting at the Parsons’ Fair Craft Conference on February 5th 2015. The Conversations in Craft Project seeks to explore the value we, as consumers, place on craftsmanship and skilled labor through a line of sweatshirts embroidered in Peru, Afghanistan, and the USA. The sweatshirts were made in a limited production run without embroidery in the Study NY Brooklyn studio. They will then be sent to embroiderers in Peru, Afghanistan, and the US with an image of the pre-designed embroidery pattern, a fixed dollar amount of $24 to cover labor costs, the required yarn, and instructions to stop working on the piece once they’ve reached the limits of the wage in their respective countries. The discrepancy in wages will be evident visually in the amount of the embroidery pattern completed by each country. The finished pieces will be sold on the Study NY webshop ( with complete supply chain transparency for the same price so customers can choose their preferred level of embellishment and which country they choose to support. The project will debut with a presentation at Parsons February 5th, 2015 and continue throughout the year.



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New York, NY 10003


Media Contacts:

Joey Parr,
The New School 

Kate Black,

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