Re-building the Craft Sector post Pandemic

Iti Tyagi Profile PhotoQ&A with Iti Tyagi, Founder, Craft Village/India Craft Week, (Art work ; Kalyan Joshi)

“Don’t bail them out, but sail them through rough weather” says Iti Tyagi, Founder of Craft Village and India Craft Week on the situation arising from the Craft Sector. Govt. doesn’t have Kuber’s Treasure (Unlimited reserves) to meet finance losses of such magnitude, and there is too much panic, at this moment we should explore a public-private-people partnership to innovate solutions, rather than burdening the Govt. This is also an opportunity to build an ‘Unparalleled’ model that can translate into policy decisions, in the long run, to deal with such an unprecedented crisis. If the world has seen the lowest ‘Market Index’ with plunging stock markets, it has also witnessed the highest ‘Creative Index’ of all time and healing of nature. Unfortunately, we tend to see in linearity. Craft Sector is the highest source of Creativity, and local livelihood, it is the only sector that offers an impeccable balance between Product and Sustainability. We must learn from this sector, how they have coped in the past, without seeking any financial help from the Government. The Craftsperson/Artisan as far as I know never seek any help or like being treated mercifully, rather they want appreciation & patronage of their work. Since the 1990s, we have lost 40% of this population (they have turned into daily wage labor) in the absence of money and recognition. Ironically, Govt. also in the absence of any voice from their side overlooked, it’s time that we must come forward and do our bit for artisans and crafts community.

What is the crisis the Craft Sector facing at the moment?

Like any other Industry, Craft Sector is also going through a phase of uncertainty, but I must say that they are panicking less than compared to any other Industry. Being a ‘Creative Industry’ they may be going through commercial challenges at the moment, but ‘Creatively’ they have become more active during the lock-down period, and hence there is not much ‘Hue & Cry’.

When I am referring to Craft Sector, I mean more than 50-Million odd (genuine and authentic) artisans practicing various Crafts for their livelihood and sustenance. The nature of crisis during CoVid-19 is specific to Individual, Community OR Industry driven craft clusters (Textiles; Handloom & Hand-Woven, Hard Material such as Stone, Metal and Wood, Soft Material using locally grown jute and natural fibers/material, Folk/Tribal Art, etc.). Therefore, there is no universal problem.

Unfortunately, the Craft Sector I am talking about is being treated as a job worker or prop by Brands, Designers, and Exporters & Socialites. Very few of them have direct market access; hence they would face similar problems how other industries in the supply chain may face.

The silver lining of this largest rural network is, it runs on minimum overheads, and practice custom orders, therefore piling up of large stocks are unlikely, but due to scarcity of raw material & orders during the lockdown has dried up their funds, and if the lock-down doesn’t open by 4th May, they would run into a deep crisis with no liquidity, raw material and manpower.

How difficult it is for Artisans to survive this phase?

Artisans/Craft Community is facing hardship; but the question is how long would they survive if the current phase prolongs? I have spoken to plenty of Craftsperson, they are hopeful that as soon as lockdown is over the business would come to normalcy in less than expected time as their major business is B2C and less of B2B, so with no big turnovers and pressures to achieve, and since end consumers pay upfront as compared to business partners they would be able to achieve liquidity with bare minimum sales and orders. So the current phase would not prolong beyond Diwali, the only worry would be for the Craftsperson who are dependent on Craft Tourism, as the tourism industry seems to be taking longer than others, they would face financial challenges for sure. There is also an interesting point to add here, these craftsperson/artisans have been trying to main digital presence using WhatsApp, Facebook, and other means so that they are not ‘Out of sight and out of mind’ from their potential consumers.

What Craft Village and India Craft Week are doing to resolve this crisis?

Craft Village and India Craft Week (ICW) is planning a special preview during this time, and would support them through an innovative framework, and business model. ICW doesn’t encourage ‘fundraising’ through donation or any such aid programs, as it believes to be a great injustice to the largest section of the ‘Creative Community’ that aspires to earn and grow employing appreciation and recognition of their work. Craft Village has been in the past great support to build connections between Craftsperson and modern consumers. We have developed a series of initiatives ranging from ‘Craft Incubation’ to ‘ICW Shop’ and we expect people’s participation (kindness) in the form of buying work directly from these artisans. This way they (Artisans) would receive the right value/Prices for their products as well as great motivation.

Also, when the world’s largest events have been called off; Craft Village is organizing Digital Edition of ‘India Craft Week Preview’ so that they get to interface with buyers and engage with global community & patrons through live workshops & other activities. In times like this when everyone is stuck at home, it would be a great sigh of relief to learn and engage in something new, and coming from great heritage and culture of India.

Do you think Govt. is doing enough for Craftsperson?

Govt. has announced many packages and a total support of Rs 1.7 Lacs Crores for the Industry; however, how much have they earmarked for Craft Sector? Whatever support they are planning should be not given to Industry Bodies/Organizations/NGO’s rather it should be direct transfer into the accounts of Craftsperson/Artisans registered with Govt. of India or otherwise. In return, Govt. must buy their work against the cash transfer and use them in Govt. offices & complexes and also sell them through offline/online channels. This would A) Reduce Burden as some money would be received through sales and allocated budgets to buy utility/decorative items, and B) would create a robust trade model, in case it succeeds. It would in the long run become ‘Mutually Beneficial’ rather than Free Service. The Govt. shall also direct banks and financial institutions to lend support by pledging market value of work of artisans as tradable stocks and allow CC Limits/Credit Facility through which they can continue operating till the time ‘cash-flow’ is back on track. The Govt. can also seek support through various ‘Cultural Grant Schemes’ with UNESCO and UNDP for the said purpose, instead of each artisan applying and fulfilling the compliance.

Govt. must realize that it is an economic relief package, which means they must trade in creativity for relief. Craft Sector can be supported in the following way;

  1. a) Tribal and Folk Art: The artisans’ work can be put up in most of the office complex, used for gifting during the coming Diwali season and can be uploaded on Govt. websites for Auction. Spending through budgetary allocation and sale on Govt. channels would bring down financial burden considerably, and in return Artisan would find it more meaningful. This would be a huge morale booster and encourage them to produce more than a highly skillful community.
  2. b) Textile & Apparel Products; Most of the politicians, bureaucrats and all Govt. employees should wear these for coming 3-6 months and the cost of buying such items in the budget (individual or Govt.) can be pooled in to rebuild financial subsidies. These products made in natural dyes are sustainable and organic creating ‘Fashion without Guilt’. Again this would continue the culture of making these products nation-wide and would help craft community engaged in a continuous loop of production/livelihood.
  3. c) Hard Goods; The people engaged in hard goods such a stone can be asked to develop elaborate work for new parliament complex, airport, office complex where the work is about to start and all approvals already in place, it could similarly be used as a public installation in the municipality and beautifying cities and other tourist places. Similarly, furniture items can be used in Govt. offices wherever there is requisition & budget for the purchase of such items available. Metalwork such as Dhokra can be used as decorative in Govt. offices as well as can go into all the stores managed by Govt. for sales. Bidriware can be used as alternative crockery, as the use of alloy copper and zinc will boost immunity. Woodwork and all other hard material can be placed strategically either as consumables in Govt. offices or the guest houses, residential complex built & used by Govt. of India.
  4. d) Terracotta, Bamboo and other wild grass products; Most of the organizations are getting rid of plastic with eco-friendly material, what better than Terracotta or Bamboo products to use as an alternative. Govt. in any case has been thinking of an alternative for a long time, what better solution than now, to implement such drastic change that would benefit the user as well as highly skilled Craft society.

I have also initiated a survey, the results of which shall be released soon, and that could become a benchmark on the quantum of support needed for this sector. I Will elaborate and write to the Govt. once findings are in my hand.

What is the next phase of development?

One must realize that Crafts are our cultural products, and has natural affinity to the population, and it also addresses next phase of ‘Change in Consumption’ where one envisage ‘Responsible Consumption”, “Slow Life’ and ‘Ethical Supply Chain’, a lot has been talked about ‘Reset Mode’, it can only happen if we create more ‘Human Nature’ connect. Craft Sector, has many such examples and hence, the chances of its revival and scope seems much better than any industry. The next phase of development shall be in the following order;

  1. Helping the Artisans and Craftsperson to exit the phase of crisis in a phase-wise manner, it’s not a herculean task but by studying the impact and planning a strategy by a core group from Govt. & Craft Sector to do it effectively.
  2. Product Innovation, building a range of innovative products that balances tradition and modernity. The craft sector has a special opportunity to be part of the emerging trend such as ‘Sustainable’, ‘Slow’ and ‘Ethical’ value chain.
  3. To build ‘For Profit Segment’ and take a tilt and bid goodbye to ‘Non-Profit’ as it has failed to build industry in the last 70-years (post-independence). And it must move out of the cottage industry mode to a more organized industry.
  4. The surge of use of technology for sale and logistics, and digital promotion of indigenous goods in the global community.
  5. Building a robust supply chain, and working with insurance companies to secure and preserve their work.
  6. Brand building & Image Makeover of each cluster, while helping this sector to get organized as the mainstream (unified) industry.

What should be people’s role at the moment?

Craft Village & ICW would never encourage donations, as we believe in giving them ‘Dignity of Work”. I have spoken to many artisans and they are keen to book orders, sell their products and are looking for opportunities where they earn through the right value and appreciation of their work. Such funding support by purchasing or commissioning their work is the right antidote to beat pandemic blues. Also, every individual must talk about them, share their stories on social media, help them in reaching the right people & community who seek such products, and help them book maximum orders, once lock-down opens they can start delivering these products to the people who have ordered/bought them. Do not jump on to offers, as discounting of products would only hamper their earning, try to pay them what they deserve. To register in large numbers at the Digital preview of India Craft Week and become part of the ecosystem to defeat pandemic blues.

What should be the role of Brands and organizations in this moment of crisis?

The brands and organizations must identify artisans and craftsperson that can add value to their products, begin commissioning of their work and treat them as ‘Creative Partners’ in the process. This way ‘Make in India’ would get promoted, help build original product ideas for the international market. The organizations and brands can do profit sharing as well on limited edition, can attribute even IPR for that range, and give due credits to these artisans in brand campaigns, promotions and other means of communication.

India Craft Week

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