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Threads of Peru Blog

NEST State of the Handworker Economy Report 2018

NEST State of the Handworker Economy Report 2018

Build A Nest Foundation is an organization that seeks to strengthen the small to medium sized enterprises in the handworker economy. They do this through creating standards, gathering data and shining a bright light on our skilled economy to make sure we are all accountable for providing fair and safe working conditions for the millions of handworkers across the world. Threads of Peru have been fortunate enough to be part of the NEST Fellowship programme, which led to Jennie Lyutskanov coming to design our past two collections.

This week, NEST launched their first ever State of the Handworker Economy report to understand more about the handworker economy, what gaps there are in our knowledge and what we can do better to support workers across the world. By handworker economy, we mean people, largely women, who work from home or small workshops either to take work home from their factory jobs or subcontracted by factories.

Photo credit: Chris Roche

Some interesting facts from the report include:

  • The global handicrafts market reached $526.5 billion in 2017, and is expected to reach $984.8 billion by 2023[1].
  • The handworker economy is the second largest employer of women in developing countries, after agriculture.
  • 90% of Nest artisans report that they are selling beyond their local markets and are exporting to different countries.

Statistics about the handworkers:

  • The handmaker economy is predominately women, with women representing 74% of artisans in the NEST Guild
  • 100% of women interviewed chose to work from home to support childcare needs, running their home and feel more empowered.
  • Women invest 90% of their income into their families, compared to 35% for men. 92% of women said that their income ensured their children completed high school. Men invest 89% of their income on rent, food and clothes.


Photo credit: Jose and Hannah

 Photo credit: Jose and Hannah

Information about the designers and consumers:

  • Of the designers interviewed, 75% said they were interesting in sourcing from artisans, with 72% interested in working with artisans from Latin America. The main motivations for working with artisans include supporting a social mission, learning new techniques or meeting marketing or business goals.
  • Brands are keen to increase transparency to the handworker level to ensure they are paid fairly and have the right working conditions.
  • Consumers will pay 17% more for handcrafted goods[2].


Photo credit: Chris Roche

Photo credit: Chris Roche

What data are we missing?

The report was very clear that due to gaps in our knowledge and data, there are lots of areas of the handworker economy that we do not know about yet. Because of this, there are concerns around the potential for exploitation of workers. Gaps in knowledge and data include:

  • Up to 50% of companies’ don´t always know their whole production lines, whether work has been subcontracted and whether the same wages, protections, rights, training and health and safety policies are in place for homeworkers as factory workers. In some cases, homeworkers can earn 50% less than workers based in a factory.
  • Between 20-60% of work leaves the factory to subcontracted homebased workers[3]. However, this statistic is from 2008 and with such a wide variance it is difficult to know what is happening on the ground.
  • Due to a lack of record keeping and documentation, it is difficult to know that wages are being paid fairly for the amount of hours worked.

What NEST thinks is needed:

  • Greater visibility throughout the supply chain. Rather than businesses disengaging from handworker subcontracts, which could lead to them going underground and workers facing further exploitation, companies should know their supply chains and ensure that the same rights are given to workers bottom up.
  • Greater standardization across the industry for assessing home or small workshop based production
  • The adoption of NEST´s standards for Home and Small Workshops support companies to effectively and responsibly meet the needs of workers.

Threads of Peru work directly with weaving associations to empower indigenous artisans, strengthen cultural traditions and connect cultures. We work closely with NEST to uphold their standards to ensure that there is transparency with the artisans we work with, through fair wages, protections and rights and training.

If you would like to know more, you can read the full report here:



[1] Research and Markets, ltd. “Handicrafts Market: Global Industry Trends, Share, Size, Growth, Opportunity and Forecast 2018-2023.” Research and Markets—Market Research Reports—Welcome, June 2018,

[2] Christoph Fuchs, Martin Schreier, and Stijn M.J. van Osselaer (2015) The Handmade Effect: What’s Love Got to Do with It?. Journal of Marketing: March 2015, Vol. 79, No. 2, pp. 98-110.

[3] Siegle, Lucy. To Die for: Is Fashion Wearing out the World? Fourth Estate, 2011.