Made in Cuba

Mother's Day is a few weeks away and Havana is all geared up for the merchandizing aspect of the day.

In the past, due to scarcities, the embargo and the obvious lack of private incentive, the second Sunday in May was celebrated in a very simple and homey fashion: mothers throughout the island would receive lovely cards in the mail and families would gather for a lunch celebrating the day.

For a few years now, things have changed.

Under the auspice of the Cuban Fund for Cultural Goods, 1,500 artists, craftsmen, painters, art promoters and others who have a sales license and goods to offer will be present at the PABEXPO showroom in Havana and in the other 13 provinces from April 22 through May 7 selling their goods for the new found gift giving celebration. 25 institutional stands and 170 individual ones required sales space.

This past Saturday I spent over three hours walking the four aisles full of trinkets ranging from the purely decorative and frankly useless to all sorts of hand made and not so hand made jewellery. Most are imports from Mexico, Miami and possibly Ecuador; others are actually home made, home as in Cuba-made and not all that bad. In my modest opinion and as a person who grew up enjoying the marvels of Mexican hand-craftsmanship, Cuba is getting better, not quite at a competitive level just yet, but at least they are on the path in the right direction.

Shoes are also a big plus. You can now actually find a wide variety of shoe makers in Cuba. Leather, canvas, and plastic you name it! Dresses and shirts, pants, even a grand display of at least four furniture designer/makers, which is not quite Knoll International or Roche Bobois but hey, its cedar wood and not all that bad when you take into account that all we had a few years ago was hideous plywood imports in the worst possible designs.

Prices are an issue. A good pair of leather shoes will range from 10 to 25 convertible Cuban pesos which for some might be a bit too steep. But when you take a look at the regular state owned market prices and do a basic quality vs. cost comparison, this is the better option.

Again, some much better than others but again the options are there and the interest in the concept of entrepreneurship is also part of the equation. End result? People have needs; others are providing options towards finding a solution. A solution made in Cuba.