Accessing Global Markets Via Design Solutions

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions


The power of design to improve products and the way they are manufactured is increasingly being seen as a critical component of successful economic development.

The importance of trade – both South-South and South-North – as a reducer of poverty in developing countries is now widely acknowledged. Countries that have made the biggest gains in reducing poverty, like China, India and Brazil, have done it through trade.

The power of trade in high quality goods to raise incomes has been proven for more than a decade. South-South trade grew by an average of 13 percent per year between 1995 and 2007. By 2007, South-South trade made up 20 percent of world trade. And over a third of South-South commerce is in high-skill manufacturing. Making finished goods, rather than just selling raw materials, improves workers’ skill levels and increases the return on trade.

But trying to get other people to desire and buy your products is very tricky. Design plays a major part in understanding the unique demands of countries and markets, and what people find appealing or repellent.

A product that has both a successful design (people want to buy it) and is produced efficiently (a well-designed manufacturing process), will generate a good profit.

In India, the Craft Resource Centre or CRC Exports Limited of Kolkata ( been successfully selling leather travel bags to the Vodafone (> mobile phone company in The Netherlands. It did this by teaming up with Dutch Designers in Development (, an NGO focused on matching European importers and retailers and professional designers with small and medium enterprises in the South.

Founded in 1989, CRC applies the concept of adding value to turn small-scale and poor artisans into successful and sustainable businesses. Many of these traditional handicraft artisans subsist on low incomes. CRC provides artisans across India with marketing, design, finance and exporting help. It also connects them with other artisans and helps to divide projects between them. This has the power of using networks to help in bad times while also sharing opportunities when they come up.

CRC’s director, Irani Sen, has divided the more than 15,000 artisans they work with into 15 different trading groups. CRC has also consulted to over 350 projects across Asia.

“The best thing fair trade gives (artisans) is the continuity of work … and with the continuity comes the basic security,” Sen said on the CRC website. “With that security they can develop, they can plan and then we try to motivate them for education, health (and) education for their children.”

It all began with a need: Dutch company Unseen Products ( needed somebody to make high-quality leather travel bags for their client, Vodafone, who in turn wanted the bags as an incentive for their employees. Unseen Products is a business connecting European retailers with small producers in the South to build long-term business relationships. They seek to make “unseen or hard to find products accessible at commercially interesting prices.”

They approached Dutch Designers in Development (DDiD), which in turn recommended CRC.

As a matchmaker, DDiD puts together European clients, Dutch designers and small and medium-sized enterprises in developing countries. The designers share their knowledge of European consumer tastes, product development, design and quality standards.

DDiD receives orders from companies, NGOs and government agencies to stimulate the production and sale of sustainable products from developing countries in Europe.

The Dutch group works with producers to develop skills and adapt producers’ products to present and future demands in Europe. By following this approach, Southern producers can reduce the risk of making products nobody wants, or that lack originality in the marketplace and thus won’t sell.

DDiD explains to producers the importance of design and how it improves the product and the business. Good design, the group believes, should reduce production costs and the time taken to get to market, and boost the reputation of the product brand and maker.

Well-known Dutch bag designer Ferry Meewisse ( was brought in to work with CRC’s artisans to craft new bags and a new way of making them.

Meewisse said he was uncertain at first whether the artisans would be able to make the highly complex bags. The solution was to break down the bag into smaller parts. And that is where the knowledge of design process comes into play.

“The button bag for example is a complex bag that has been taken apart: compartments, pockets, handles,” said Meewisse. “This provided us with elements that were each really simple to manufacture. After that the pieces would only have to be clicked together with the buttons. And there it was: a complete bag with all the elements you need in a good bag.”

The bags can be seen here:

Stella van Himbergen, a project manager at DDiD, said the concept is about introducing a new way of looking at things through the prism of design.

“Small producers in developing countries are not lacking craftsmanship,” said Himbergen. But, she added, “it is important for producers to receive support in production-led design, and not only in aesthetic design.”

Conceptually, this is the difference between designing and making something because it is aesthetically pleasing, and taking a market-driven design approach – letting market demands lead to the design solution. As a different way of looking at things, it takes in the company’s vision, brand values and positioning in the marketplace, production requirements (costs, sustainability), organization, and client’s needs.

DDiD helps producers learn how to quickly create new products based on market demands. They also raise the level of awareness of design to global standards, and show how to apply this across the production process, from graphic design, to packaging, retail and exhibition space, brand design and design management. Since 2005, the group has completed 46 international projects.

DDiD also stresses sustainability, encouraging the use of environmentally friendly materials such as biological cotton, bamboo and water hyacinth for paper and rope.

Apart from Vodafone, the CRC-made bags are sold in shops and on the web.

The extra attention to design seems to have paid off. CRC’s bags have been such a success that a second order has been placed. And CRC has picked up another project from Dutch importer Global Goodies ( 

Published: March 2009

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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© David South Consulting 2021

By David South Consulting

David South Consulting is an international development media and consulting service. Designing human development and health. Editor and writer of Southern Innovator.



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