Making India's craft industry stay alive

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
You're reading Entrepreneur India, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

M.N Upadhyay is his book ‘Handicrafts of India’ has beautifully described the crafts and textiles of the country. He said, "To write about Indian handicrafts is almost like writing about the country itself. So vast, complex, colorful, and yet with a simplicity and charm, difficult to attain under comparable conditions”

Entrepreneur India
(L-R: Neha Baheti, Ruchi Jhawar and Smita Lathi, Founders, Indian Artizans)

If one gander at the country’s craft and textiles, they will amaze to see the magical world of art and textile inside the large universe of India’s craft. If you went on exploring the Indian crafts from the foothills of the Himalayas to Kanyakumari, you will find the colossal amount of variation.

Whether it is Patola sarees of Patan, magnificent fabric work of Gujarat and Rajasthan in the form of bandhani and tie-dye, heavy gold brocades sarees of Banaras, fragile Jamavars from Kashmir or Kanchipuram silks from Tamil Nadu, all will make your eyes pop out.

Market overview

Despite having such a rich culture, skill and talent the biggest issue lies in the Indian markets which do not recognize the true value of this craft. As per the Dasra’s report entitled ‘Crafting a Livelihood’, an estimated 7 million artisans according to official figures (and up to 200 million artisans according to unofficial sources) are engaged in craft production to earn a livelihood. It further states that the global market for handicrafts is $ 400 billion with India’s share below 2 percent, representing a tremendous growth opportunity.

The report further adds that 39 percent of artisans incur production expenditures of less than Rs 12,000/ $ 215 a year and only 19 percent spend above Rs. 50,000/ $ 900 a year.

The amount of time, effort and expertise that goes into weaving one saree by hand is truly commendable. Yet, due to factors such as (not limited to) middle-men commission, inability to market, lack of exposure, and limited customer awareness, the remuneration these artists get is very low.

Making India’s rare craft stay alive

Following this simple realization, Ruchi Jhawar, Smita Rathi and Neha Baheti come up with the platform named ‘Indian Artizans’, which offers a unique range of handcrafted and curated creations, retelling the incredible story behind the Indian art and craft tradition across the globe.

These creations come straight from the artists who have dedicated their lives to these arts and speak of the unique story behind the hands that has created them. “As all of us have large families spread across India, we realized how we tend to undervalue our artisans and traditional crafts when designers from all across the world cherish Indian textiles and crafts. Having this very simple realization, we decided to showcase the artisans and their methods all over the world by providing them financial, technological and design support. It also helped us in developing a network and connect with Artizans,” said Ruchi Jhawar, Director-Sales and Strategy Leader, Indian Artizans.

In a mission to preserve and showcase the age-old Indian culture through various craft forms, their focus is primarily on creations made by traditional techniques that use hand-based processes and are unique in their appeal.

The platform allows its users to pick from an ambit of woven, painted, printed, brocaded, tie-and-dye, hand colored, hand embellished, hand spun, to hand-embroidered creations. Some of the crafts showcased by Indian Artizans are Paithani, Katha, Chanderi, Benarasi, Maheshwari, Bandhej, Patola, Chikankari, Ikat, Assamese Silks, Kanjivaram, Uppada, Jamdani, Hand block prints and many more.

Not at all an easy journey 

Raising this platform was not a cake walk for the founders. They had to face a lot of challenges to meet the two extreme ends. Lack of awareness amongst people, building a relationship with Artisans and getting the weavers their value are few hardships which they had to face.

“A lot of people we meet are unaware about the number and kinds of arts and weaves that are done all over India. They have no idea about the amount of effort that goes into creating just one piece of saree by hand neither do they know the process behind such creations. We use social media and trunk shows to spread awareness, and conduct events where we showcase arts from a certain region each month in our Experience Center in Jaipur,” said Jhawar.

Challenges still continue.....

The hardship doesn’t end here. It still continue in the form of delivery timelines. Following a delivery timeline becomes a real challenge as the artisans generally work out of their homes in little villages. It is not uncommon for them to go on breaks for over a week for festivals, which happen quite frequently.

On the same lines Jhawar explains, “Since weaves are more subtle in nature, it is at times a challenge to explain to customers the effort that goes behind creating them. Most of the times, the value of these product categories are measured by the 'bling' factor, and not by the time and effort that goes into creating them.”

A long way to go.....

Being both craft marked and a part of the Alliance for Artisans (worldwide), they participate in all activities related to these. At a personal level, they work closely with artisans for financial, technical, design and personal aids. “We invest in technology that helps the weavers create new designs, and at the same time, reduce wastage. Apart from that, 2 percent of our sales go to NGOs working for them,” opined Jhawar.

Earlier selling through marketplaces, they have recently launched their website and since then they have reached many customers and are selling globally. “Last month we have started our own experience center in Jaipur for people to connect with the crafts from all over India. We give design inputs; tie up with creators sharing similar sensibilities. We personally work with weavers in over 15 regions and create designs/ outfits/ handicrafts of the finest quality,” informed Jhawar. 

Entrepreneur’s take

When value of weavers is recognized and people are ready to spend on craft-based products, weavers and craftspeople will start getting better wages. This will further boost the rural-based livelihood opportunities associated with this sector.