Through my experience of working directly with artisans and NGOs in this sector, I am aware of the many challenges which the industry faces. Some of the key areas which I feel need to be addressed are;
- Process and communication issues – there is often a disconnect between the major stakeholders in the production of handicrafts i.e. NGOs, their CSR funders, and the artisans themselves. These players usually have goals that do not align with each other and the challenge lies in bridging the gap effectively between them in order to create the type, quantity and quality of products which meet customer demand. It can also be challenging for NGOs to collect the type of quantitative data mandated by CSR funders.
- Reaching the market – many artisans lack the required skillset to directly reach customers and are forced to work through middlemen or larger distributors. We can see that this often drives the costs of the products down, putting added pressure on artisans to produce higher quantities which inversely impact quality and/or product innovation.
- Digital Literacy – with a nearly 90% estimated penetration of smart phones in India by 2020, the potential for artisans to use simple digital technology to sell their products directly to customers is huge. The issue is often a lack of awareness, not only of the potential to do this, but also how to do it effectively.
In all the reports (both government and privately produced) on the handicraft industry in India which I have analysed so far, there is an emphasis on improved design and availability of raw materials. While this is absolutely critical for success, little thought has been devoted to effective marketing of the products. Government schemes to aid marketing largely focus on providing funds to set up art fairs and exhibitions. However, the success of brands such as Raw Mango, Ekaya, nicobar, Anantaya Decor, Jaipur Living etc. are proof that more effective ways of marketing products are working and that the “India story” is on the rise. These brands are communicating their craft based stories directly to their audience. These stories not only help sell the products but also educate the customer about the rich history of the craft.
I believe that this audience engagement is what could also allow the handicrafts industry in India to survive and flourish. I want to document the rich history of the handicrafts of India and to help artisans to use these stories to connect with their audience, cultivate conversations, communicate their stories, and ultimately sell their products. Artisans can enthral a listener with stories that form the foundation of their craft. Stories that are passed down orally from generation to generation. I can see that the issue today is that artisans are failing to communicate their rich history and expertise to the modern consumer and are struggling to adapt to the digital age of communication. The cyclical nature of this problem is causing many artisans to quit their potentially far more lucrative traditional vocation and seek other mediocre sources of income.
New brands and new marketing techniques are gradually evolving India’s contemporary image with its traditions in tow. Sadly, often the artisans at the heart of this movement seem to be left out. By using the skills I have acquired over the years, I would like to contribute towards giving them a voice.