How Entrepreneurs Can Revamp Shrinking Industries
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There are 48 million small businesses in India, as per a report by Business Today in 2017. India’s small businesses create 1.3 million jobs every year, the largest share of employment after agriculture; thereby, playing a significant role in the country's GDP.
Let’s look at the bigger picture: We are a solution-oriented society, meaning everything that we do is an answer to a very specific problem and, this translates into our business models as well. However, what if these solutions start creating a negative impact on certain industries?
For instance, digitalisation is threatening the billion dollar newspaper industry. While the large industries like print and newspaper manage to stay buoyant with the changing times, the smaller ones move towards an inevitable end. The Indian handicraft industry is one such ‘sinking’ example. The fast growth of India’s entrepreneurial eco-system is a silver lining that can change the status of such shrinking industries. Scrutinising familiar and outdated business practices can bring about a successful business model. So, adaptation can be a winning strategy!
Indian Handicrafts: A Classic Example
Interestingly, Indian handicrafts are in demand around the world. The blend of chic modern and traditional ethnic is the new global trend. Technically, Indian handicraft and handloom are a INR24,300 crore industry and contributes close to INR10,000 crores of the country’s exports. Ironically, this just translates to the contribution of already flourishing urban designers and a handful of master weavers. Sadly, local artisans, traditional craftsmen and minority communities are struggling to be a part of this global phenomenon.
Semi-skilled artisans are the heart of craft production, but they remain neglected. Data from the Livemint shows that India is home to 6.8 million artisans, however, their share of the global market for crafts is less than 2%. This is because design houses and urban designers work with high-skilled weavers to create solutions for the ‘urban consumer’, whereby, handloom and handicraft goods get mass produced. So, the ‘actual’ handicraft industry is indeed shrinking. Weak infrastructure, access to raw material, broken supply chains and lack of marketing are the reasons that the trade is snatched away from artisans by big brands.
Turning the Tables
The industry needs help, not in the form of subsidies, but in terms of opportunities. An interesting case study is about fashion designer Ritu Kumar who created stunning pieces of clothing by employing fifty Telia Rumaal artisans (ikat dyeing techniques) – She managed to bring the dying craft back in demand by bringing together a group of semi-skilled artisans! Her design pieces were sold in high-fashion segments around the world, giving a global platform to showcase India’s rich traditional craft. This is a brilliant example of how artisans can evolve when they are empowered, and how they can become a part of the ‘global phenomenon’.
Leading on from the above example, unconventional ideas help you jump off the entrepreneurial cliff. The entrepreneurs must not only aim to become middlemen but become torch bearers. They must also identify needs, tap the market and focus on upskilling these traditional artisans.
Capacity building: Smart entrepreneurs can provide these opportunities by developing craft-based sustainable business initiatives that don’t leave these traditional artisans behind. A new direction and a fresh mindset can create winning solutions.
Introduction of technology: Historically, the crafts sector in India was driven by local demand, inter-dependence of communities, use of traditional techniques, the dependence of local raw materials and most importantly patronage. While technology doesn’t have to completely overhaul the handloom and handicraft sector, upgrades can help get things done faster and more effectively. For instance, stone cutwork artists (who manually break stone pieces to create intricate stone inlay work) can use machines to cut the stone pieces. Such changes can help these artists integrate with the changing times.
Smart entrepreneurs must not only aim to identify needs but must also change the old business models to suit current times with the use of the latest technological advancements. For instance, if the publishing industry had not moved on to e-books and audiobooks with the changing times, the loss that the sector would have faced is quite unimaginable.
Looking back, the greatest invention in history, the wheel, was born out of need. However, the even greater inventions were created by adapting and re-inventing the simple wheel. Just see how far the simple wooden wheel has come!