The global business size of handicraft and handloom is more than USD 400 billion, where India contributes approximately USD 25,000; in terms of export income the approximated contribution is USD 10,000. More importantly we as a nation house more than 40% of global artisan population, who contributes just 2% of global business. This simple stats tell us how much can be done in this sector, within India and outside country. India is a land of cultures and history and artisans are important part of our evolution from Indus valley civilization till cane sieve still in use today. These products are very local due to availability of specific raw material, art form, aesthetic preferences and so on. The variety of handicrafts India possess is sumptuous, but sad part is, we ourselves are leaving this behind and in the name of modernization using plastic as substitute for many things.
In current state, technology is reaching in all corners of country. Technology can be a good driving force to take these products to customers and increase the outreach of artisans and their products. The sector is second largest employer in the country, after agriculture. But better job/employment opportunity is taking young generations at artisan’s family away from their respective traditional art form.
The main segment of sales for these artisans can be categorised on the basis of type and location of customers:
- International individual customers
- International institutional
- Domestic institutional
- Domestic individual
Out of all the four above, one can easily understand that which segment gives maximum revenue and generate maximum profits for the organization. Interestingly domestic individual customers are tapped in very limited number of occasions like, handicraft fairs, online marketing through social media, word of mouth, e-commerce websites, etc. As international customer segment is always on priority one, many aggregation institutions do not put much efforts on awareness of domestic customers.
Covid-19 pushed this sector into new age of virtual fairs, live shopping, use of AI and VR for product marketing. Artisan community just like any other vulnerable segment was not prepared to adapt their business to this imposed condition where virtual is new reality. On one hand some artisans were using technology for designing their products where “the essence of handicraft and associated artisans is getting diluted”. The statement is not supported by many but few want to stick with it, challenging the gap between traditional and modern definition of artisan. Most of them are focused on aggregation of products before retail sales, others are just providing ecommerce services/platform and few are working with artisan communities closely to co-create a new product depending upon the latest market trend.
The scope of innovation in handicraft is largely dependent upon the way artists look at it and how customers’ preference is changing. Improving technology towards demand side shows potential to solve issues related to awareness, outreach, sales and marketing, but equal focus should be given to supply side issues; where it can be used in designing, co-creating, strong handholding, enterprise management, business management, and so on. Very few organizations working in aggregation and sales of handicraft are able to evolve as sustainable success stories. While finding out the reasons of confined success, involve analysis of various socio-economic and policy level aspects, there is a ray of hope associated with evolution of social entrepreneurs in this sector. Some serious social enterprises are working in a very balanced way between individual artisans are growing along with the enterprise itself, without deviating from traditional handicraft skill.
In terms of innovation, many artisans are able to produce latest gadgets which can be used in day to day life using bamboo and solar light, clay and electrical components, metal and motorised fountain, examples are so many. My discussion with new social entrepreneurs focused on Artisans, on the use of technology in their work gave me several insights. Better way to bring back old charm of this sector is to keep artisans at the helm of all business affairs, whether it is raw material, production, old/new design, increasing outreach, digital marketing, sales management, success stories, catalogue design, business processes, after sales and so on. Artisans need enterprise approach rather than individual approach of development.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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