IMBERLITA: Creating Value from Artisanal Handicrafts through Branding

With a population of 22,000 people, the municipality of Imbert is located in the center of the province of Puerto Plata. It is one of the top tourist spots in the Dominican Republic. In addition to its natural beauty, the region is known for its local handicrafts.

The artisans of the Imbert region use common
Dominican themes in their handicrafts.
(Photos: Courtesy of ASOARTEP)

Handicrafts in the Dominican Republic have origins in Taina (Indigenous natives), Spanish and African cultures. The combination of these cultures has given rise to a unique form of artistic expression. Their intense colors characterize the handicrafts. They are all made from natural materials, including wood, minerals, and even the precious amber that is native to the island. One such material, which is only found in the mines around Imbert, is a unique stone that looks like wood.

The stone is a mineral called talc formed from a sedimentary sandstone rock (also known as "petrified wood"). It can be shaped by hand with simple tools, such as machetes and knives. The artisans create typical Dominican figurines from these rocks, such as faceless dolls; Taino pieces; symbols of family, birth, and love; chess pieces; baseballs; animals, and religious images.

The handicrafts of Imbert are rooted in the region's tradition. The traditional knowledge and know-how of the stone sculptures in and around Imbert date from the 1960s.

The Association of Petrified Wood Artisans (ASOARTEP) was created in 1997 to recognize the unique qualities of these handicrafts. Its objective is to protect local traditional cultural expressions and foster the development of the Imbert region's local artisans and handicrafts.

Capturing value with a collective mark

In 2011, ASOERTEP registered "IMBERLITA" as a collective mark for the petrified wood handicrafts of Imbert.

Unlike traditional trademarks, collective marks usually belong to a group or association, and their use is reserved for group members. Their function is to inform the public about the distinctive feature of the product for which the collective mark is used. As such, its usage is usually tied to the fulfillment of certain conditions.

In the case of the IMBERLITA collective mark, it may only be used by ASOERTEP members whose handicrafts meet the following requirements:

  • the handicraft must be made manually with knives and machetes. This guarantees the originality of the work and enhances local labor opportunities,
  • the stone used to make the handicraft must be obtained from the stone mines in the area around Imbert. This guarantees the handicraft's specific origin, and
  • the handicraft must be made using only non-toxic elements. This ensures its safety.

The registration of the IMBERLITA collective mark has had a positive impact on local artisans' lives and businesses.

The brand has allowed the artisans of the area to participate in a collective process that gives value to their work. Without the collective mark, this would not have been possible as most artisans lack the capital and expertise to create brands or launch promotional activities,

explains Pablo Garcia, President of ASOARTEP.

"With the registration of IMBERLITA, the artisans can capture value with the brand. After ten years of using the collective mark, the group of stone carving artisans' conditions have improved. It has generated around 200 direct jobs in the processes of stone extraction, preparation, and commercialization of their works," he says.

According to Mr. Garcia, the use of the collective mark offers tourists the guarantee that the pieces they buy are authentic and that the money they pay will go to the local artisans. This, in turn, enhances international recognition of the region's craftsmanship. It has also led to a decline in the number of imitations.

The Dominican Republic

ASOARTEP has collaborated with development agencies in capacity-building activities targeting the artisans of Imbert. The production of handicrafts has been incorporated into local strategies for the development of cultural tourism in Puerto Plata.

In 2017, the Dominican Republic's Government established Handicrafts Plaza in Imbert and dedicated it to the local artisans. The Plaza is being used to support the development, production, and marketing of petrified wood handicrafts under the IMBERLITA collective mark. It is also used to host fairs, exhibitions, cultural activities and meetings, and other activities designed to showcase the region's handicrafts.

The development of the petrified wood industry has created an essential market in the cultural and tourism sectors of the Imbert region. Today, even the coat of arms of the municipality of Imbert has been updated to include handicrafts as one of the region's distinctive elements.