A handwritten sign in the offices of Design Niche spells out the group’s philosophy in green letters: to earn happy living for ourselves, families, and neighbours. In this small rural community in the Akwapim mountains, a thirty minute drive from the Ghanaian capital, Accra, a happy living is not always easily found. Although Ghana’s economy has experienced a good rate of economic development in the past twenty years, people in rural areas have been little affected by the economic growth. Many are subsistence farmers with no opportunity for anything else, forcing young people to leave their villages and move to urban areas to look for work, leaving behind an aging population.
Design Niche, a fair trade handicraft group founded by Daniel Quaynor in 2000, offers an alternative, and hope for the future of rural Ghana. Quaynor was inspired to start the group when he observed that in communities rich in natural resources, poverty was still rampant. It became his goal to help people find a way to pursue their dreams — without having to leave behind their families and community. Today, through their work making handicrafts, group members have been able to continue their educations and careers. For example, group member Richard was able to work part-time as an artisan to support himself while he finished high school and then nursing training. Today, he works as a nurse in a government hospital. Other students have worked during their holidays to pay school fees. Some group members prefer to start their own handicraft workshops, creating employment opportunities for others in their villages. Today, there are two former workers who have their own workshops modeled on Design Niche. They employ about five workers each.
In order to keep the success of their business sustainable for future generations, it’s important to Quaynor that the work done at Design Niche preserves the local environment and the rich natural resources that inspired the group’s inception. All of the artisans in the group work with materials that are recycled. Metal fabrication such as furniture and gates, and smaller home decor pieces like candle holders and mobiles, are made of recycled meta. The glass beads with which they decorate metalwork objects are made from discarded glass soda bottles. Bottles are crushed, and the pieces are placed into molds, which are then fired in a kiln to become fused glass beads. This kiln is traditionally wood-fired, but with 2 million people dependent on Ghana’s trees for traditional lifestyles involving wood stoves and kilns, deforestation is a huge problem. Between 1990 – 2005, Ghana lost over 73,000 square miles of forest. Because of this, as part of their efforts towards environmental sustainability, Quaynor’s group no longer uses wood for their kilns. One of Quaynor’s goals for the future is to implement the use of solar energy by rural businesses and homes.
Those who buy their handicrafts are not forgotten in Design Niche’s thoughtful process. According to Quaynor, the group creates objects with the intention that, for the person who purchases it, the object will “create an inner feeling of peace and healing.” Happy living, indeed.