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Why everything so perfect?

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A couple of years ago, I had a conversation with the owner of a handicraft business in Indonesia. She produced and exported all kinds of stools, side tables, bowls and vases from teak root made in small villages. It seemed like a flourishing business since she wasn’t the only one in that area selling exactly the same thing.

When I asked her how business was going she answered: “Lots of interest but everyone wants it cheap.” She pointed a finger at me and said “You Western people want everything so perfect! And your buyers are always complaining that not everything looks exactly the same.” She threw her hand in the air and almost shouted: ”Impossible! This is a handicraft business. These products are made in small villages, where simple people are trying to make bowls from root wood with very simple tools. Can’t be! If we would only use the even parts of the root we have to throw away 50% of it! And that is a waste!” A bit tired she continued: “So if everything is rejected people will not get paid, and they depend on this work for income and so do I. Margins are just too small!”

Well…that is a problem indeed. But what is the cause of it? Was it her management skills, the difference in perception between East and West or do we ask too much, focussing too much on perfection and at what price? I looked around in her showroom-shop and picked up a bowl from a table; it wasn’t totally perfect indeed but it had something, something characteristic. Apparently, I only appreciated the charm of this imperfect bowl after I got a different perspective on it.

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I still have a large teak root vase of hers in my windowsill. I am not sure how it got there. It is rather heavy so I definitely did not put it in my suitcase on the way back home. The vase has a, somewhat, freaky form and is definitely far from perfect but it is standing in my windowsill for years now. I always have to look at it. In one way or the other this vase never bores me. And that is something that never happened to me with something from the IKEA catalogue.

Funny enough the frustration of the business lady from the teakroot showroom-shop was at the origin of originalhome. I should definitely tell her.

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