In our Outreach program we are teaching our core Design for Artisans course in abbreviated form, tailoring it to the groups and interspersing it with exhibitions to insure income and enthusiasm generation as well as direct implementation of the material. The Bagalkot weavers have taken the colour course and the basic design course, after which they did their second exhibition in Mumbai. Next comes Market Orientation. We had done a field trip to Fabindia and two homes immediately after the Mumbai show. Looking back, the weavers said one home they thought was a museum. The other quickly convinced them that saris could not only be RS 5,000: they could even be RS 50,000!

Last week we conducted a local Market Orientation course in Bangalore. As the weavers make saris, we focused on the sari market. They saw a range of shops from the famous sari supermarkets, Vijaylaxmi and Nallis, to the boutiques House of Tamara and Ants. They saw saris priced at RS 100,000, and purchased dhotis almost triple the cost of they ones they get at home, because they were worth it. They met Poonam Bir Kasturi, and were keenly interested in her home composting Daily Dump. And they held a trunk show at Jaya and Mohan’s yoga studio, the Practice Room, where they sold RS 33,000 of saris in two hours.

The weavers are really smart. They are on the job and understand quickly.  When they came back, they gleaned important feedback for their saris, and efficiently analyzed the segments of Bangalore plus a recent experience in Chennai, and picked out the one for themselves: the boutique, of course. Shwetha Shettar taught them in Kannada, assisted by Dayabhai in Hindi. They designed saris for different consumers in half a day, and asked confident prices.

In order to utilize this long distance trip to begin planning for next September’s exhibition in Mumbai, we then reviewed colour and basic design. We will omit the Concept course for this group, and instead introduced a sustainable way to insure future collection development by asking them to find inspiration for colour palettes from their environment.

By now, all of them have smart phones- a direct impact of the program! Tukaram has already learned some designing techniques on his. So off they went down the streets of Kamatgi, delightedly photographing walls, gardens, and cooking in process. Very fortunately, it was the weekly market day, so they got images of the dense colours of vegetables, spices and black pottery. They quickly chose favorite images and extracted colours. We had thought about how to get these colours to the dyer. Taking them to a fabric “matching center” in Bagalkot seemed a good possibility. Then we found a shade card for silk yarns in Hotiji’s office. We were planning to sneak out just a few tiny threads. But the weavers had a much better idea. They knew the local tailor supplier and ran down, bringing back a stack of boxes filled with sewing thread of every colour. They chose colours from the many spools, cut a length and put them back — free! He won’t charge us for a few meters, they said.

The best part was how much they enjoyed it all. Grown men playing. When Shwetha introduced USP, they each gave an analysis of each other, with so much love and affection. They are cooperative. I asked if it was working in the Cooperative Society or by from nature? 90% nature, they said.

They are not doing this for money. That is clear. It is about joy, creativity and recognition.

But when we got to production planning, it did become about money. They are not getting advances from their regular work these days. So there is no cushion. They have mostly paid off their loans for the project and there is now nothing to invest. Plus, they are afraid after the scant footfall in the last show. But Shwetha skillfully pointed out that over all they have sold almost everything, and the feedback of shops and individuals has been excellent and very enthusiastic. There is a constant need to bolster confidence. It will happen. Hotiji, the Society secretary, is ready to set up four looms just for the project.

Look for the colours of Kamatgi in September!

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a talk given at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, for
“Crafting Luxury and Lifestyle Businesses.” February 2016

Two important marks of luxury are customization and hand-work.

Paradoxically, craft is often valued as inexpensive. How do we bridge this gap so that the artisan benefits, so that we can insure that quality hand work will continue?

What is the most ethical way to engage artisans in luxury work?

When I originally made this presentation, it was as a keynote address for the International Textile and Apparel Association. At that time, I was asked to consider the role of textile artisan work in the fast emerging “creative economy.” I had to think on that. Traditional craft in the contemporary world is an evolving relationship. Society evolves, the market evolves– at an ever faster pace. Artisans try to keep up their own evolution, with integrity. There is an inherent challenge, however, because craft is NOT fast. The stage at which we have arrived, which is just that: considering traditional craft in the context of the creative economy, is the most challenging yet. I do not yet have solutions, but I am working on defining the points we have to address…

To me, the key point is Value. While we celebrate the unique, how do we insure that we also value it?

There is a range of craft practiced today, from traditional to professional/ commercial. I am focusing on traditional crafts, those that are an integral part of culture, and express identity and cultural heritage, and those that are designed as well as made by the artisan.  I believe that we need to address traditional craft to keep genuinely valuable hand work not only alive but evolving.

We know there is a market for good, tradition-based craft, (which is also called “folk art.”)

In India, we are blessed with a robust urban domestic market. In addition, a growing number of artisans from India, and all over the world, have had the opportunity to attend The International Folk Art Market| Santa Fe, now considered the apex of the traditional craft market.

The IFAM |SF has been growing since 2004. Here are some statistics for 2015:

173 folk artists from 57 countries

19,000 visitors

$2.9 million of folk art sold in 21 hours

Average booth sales over $20,000

This is some good evidence that there is a market- and value- for craft with excellent design, production and market readiness.

But the Santa Fe Folk Art Market’s reach is limited. What percentage of world artisans would 173 be? And a number of these artisans are returnees who have come to depend on the market for a comfortable livelihood.

If we want to celebrate the unique, how can the other thousands of artisans all over the world find a market to value their work so that they can increase their income to an equitable and sustainable level? Because in many places, when artisans cannot earn equitably, they simply leave craft.

How are artisans going to market?

We can we learn a lot from the International Folk Art Market.

It celebrates- and values the unique. The event has been voted #1 art festival in the USA and a top 20 must-see event globally! Buyers fly in from all over the country and the world to experience this event, when surely they could buy craft closer to home.

One key to its success is the personal, joyful connection between maker and user– the original essence of traditional craft.

But, where to go from here? One thing I hear continually is “scaling up craft production.”

Funding agencies overtly or covertly make this a prerequisite for fundable projects. Sometimes scaling up is mentioned in the same breath as lauding the personal aspects of craft!  I keenly question the fit of “large scale” and “Folk Art.”

Is this simply an assumption based on an industrial-oriented society?

Who is asking for scale in craft?

 

Do Artisans want scale? Traditionally, craft was never done in big scale. In fact, in Kutch it was a part-time occupation, practiced in lulls of the agricultural cycle. The consumers, traditionally, were well known and production was close to customized.

My concern is that scaling up will extinguish the essence of hand made craft. If craft is mass-produced, what is the meaning of hand work? Did we not invent machines to do just this: mass produce?

The next question is, how much do artisans need to produce to be economically viable?

I asked the three SKV artisans who participated in the IFAM| Santa Fe in July 2015 their views on scale. Interestingly, they represent three levels of scale:

Junaid, a block printer does large-scale work. He said, “There is demand for scale, and an advantage, but it requires standardization, accurate costing, and a good capital base. We have both scale and quality, but we have problems with colour variation. So we work with customers who accept this.

Abdulaziz, a bandhani artist, has increased his scale to mid-range. He said, “With increase in scale, there is a compromise in quality. We need and want to increase scale. But the question is, how to do it and keep the quality?”

Dahyalal, a small scale family production weaver, said, “I don’t believe in large scale for craft. It is then not craft.”

Scaling up is the industrial model, with the goals of faster, cheaper, and more standard production. For craft and artisans, growth must engage the vital aspects of traditional art:

  1. First, folk art is hand made. It is the creation of the human hand guided by the human spirit.
  2. Folk art is slow, labour intensive,
  3. Folk art limited in production- or one of a kind, and full of quirky character.
  4. Folk art has meaning. It is the expression of cultural heritage and identity.
  5. Traditionally, folk art is crafted of natural materials, with ecologically sound practices.
  6. Folk art is produced in rural, remote regions of the world.

If artisans are not interested in scale, is it craft consumers who want scale?

Most often, the customer for craft is not interested in mass production; that is why s/he is buying craft. An informative study of craft markets done by the Craft Council of England in 2010 elaborates on what craft consumers want.[1] First, in England craft consumption is significant. 63% of the population consumes £913m/ of craft a year.

Craft consumers tend to be women, educated, older, culturally active, open and independent thinking. More important, the study defines cultural consumption and it correlates craft buying choices to current consumer trends.

English consumers value craft in terms of authenticity, quality, workmanship, and personal touch. In a time termed the Era of Consequences, consumer demand has shifted towards value-centered products that meet emotional as well as functional needs. People buy craft as a unique and also ethical route for consuming objects. They consider craft buying as an experience, and a new way of signaling connoisseurship. In short, scaling up hand craft production will not likely meet the needs of these consumers.

The study I am citing was Euro-centric, where there is a sense of “creative economy,” and hand craft is relatively rare and perceived as valuable. In applying its findings to traditional craft in developing countries there are some significant differences. In India, for example, craft is not so rare. There are large numbers of traditional artisans (as well as others who have acquired craft skills).

Foremost in this scenario is the core issue of value, which becomes aggravated with scaling up craft. In the social hierarchy of India, working with one’s hands is equated with low social status. In order to create a greater supply of lower value craft, Master Artisans, those who are economically stronger, employ other artisans as job workers at the lowest possible wages. This further reinforces the perception that the artisan is a laborer. Thus the artisan as well as the craft is de-valued.

India is not yet conscious of a creative economy. Although- as in the West- machines have taken over the work of the essential, craft continues to be considered in terms of productivity. Government policies view craft as languishing, an inferior type of production, and subsidize handloom artisans to produce plain white cotton-polyester sheets for the Indian Railways, and yardage for children’s school uniforms. Higher value products such as saris and scarves are woven by power looms.

Clearly, the essential characteristics of craft that are valued by consumers in England are not yet well recognized!

In addition, because artisans are perceived as anonymous workers- hands without heads. many good artisans aspire to not working but supervising others- the Peter Principle.

But, the cultural consumption market is not primarily price conscious. So, thinking from the needs of both artisans and consumers, can we think of enhancing value rather than volume? This would mean better wages and better quality of life for more people- horizontal expansion

Genuine enhancing of value for craft begins with perceptions of artisan and craft, from the perspectives of artisan, society and consumer. Thinking on this, and beginning with self worth of the artisan, I launched design education for traditional artisans of Kutch, which I have run for a decade. Design is recognized as valuable– til now, more valuable than craft. It was in directing the program, that I realized that a key result of the education was to encourage the unique. In 135 graduates, we had clear success in individuals emerging in better markets– and no duplication.

After operating the design course for 8 years, I realized that to reap full economic benefit, a bit of business was also needed. So in 2014, I started a course in Business and Management for Artisans. The key learning from this course was the importance of ownership, which dramatically increased capacity, and the value of artisan and craft.

Both courses end in public events.   Fashion shows compel the public to value craft and artisans in other ways. Student- planned and implemented exhibitions in prestigious venues in Mumbai provide immediate confirmation of increased value.

Design and entrepreneurship tap individual creativity and unquestionably generate higher value, as well as diversity. Diversity has in turn expanded the market. Artisan designers have increased their income from 10 to 600% and enjoyed new opportunities. Significantly, when asked when they felt their craft was most valued, several artisans responded, “When we are teaching.”

Education for artisans has increased the value of the unique among artisans in one region of a developing country. From this microcosm, we zoom out to the original question: where are artisans with increased capacity going to market their work? Or, perhaps this can be re-worded: how are artisans going to tap that craft market that we have begun to define?

I would like to think of creating a model from the original situation- scaling out, rather than up. This would look like small-scale artisan designer entrepreneurs creating one of a kind or limited edition, highly valued craft. The amount of work produced would be about the same- maybe more! But diversity, de-centralization, ownership, and value would be increased, and benefit would be widely shared.

To build such artisan enterprise, we need to develop an appropriate market.

Arjo Klamer, Priyatej Kotipalli, and others at Erasmus University write of nurturing a Creative Craft Culture.[2] In such a culture, crafts would encompass what we are achieving through education for artisans:

-Young people viewing the creative crafts as a career worth striving for

-Strong traditions of apprenticeship

-A strong sense of tradition,

-Recognition of the masters; fair and effective

-A strong sense of collegiality among creative craftspeople

-A spirit of creativity and innovativeness

-A strong appreciation of entrepreneurship

– Core values and a clear sense of mission (promoting and sustaining quality, contributing to a joyful and inspiring life)

Equally critical for this culture are:

-people who know the world of creative crafts

-appreciation of creative quality

-willingness to pay

-Significant local demand as well as international interest-

So, what Artisans- and craft consumers need is a network of venues in congruence with unique work. Imagine a marketing organization that comprises small, unique venues across the country…. Or the world.

The point of developing local demand is an important one. It will insure broad sustainability. To raise the value of craft to that of design, Marketing is essential.

Consumer trends indicate directions –targeting consumers of luxury goods who are looking to signal connoisseurship in new ways, and people with ethical or ecological motivations.

Do we dare to market traditional craft as valuable for its creativity, authenticity, and uniqueness, and as luxurious for its limited edition, bespoke quality?

The final, critical third component in developing a Creative Craft Culture is:

strong intermediaries- in addition to special shops, experts, journalists, scholarship, and

intensive discussions of the works of creative crafts people.

Success is first determined by experts, then by others who pay attention and are able and willing to pay the price. As a wonderful example, three Somaiya Kala Vidya artisan designers- Dahyalal Kudecha, Abdulaziz A. Khatri, and Khalid Amin Khatri- were included in the contemporary design section of a major exhibition at the V&A Museum in UK, Fabric of India. Not only that, but it has been noticed and discussed!

We all can play a part in building a Creative Crafts Culture, insuring that unique craft traditions are not just celebrated but also valued, and insuring that artisans benefit equitably in the process.

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[1] McIntyre, Morris Haargreaves, Consuming Craft: the Contemporary Craft Market in a Changing Economy. London: Crafts Council of England, 2010.

[2] Klamer, Arjo, Priyatej Kotipalli, Lili Jiang, Dr. Anna Mignosa, Prof.

Dr. Kazuko Goto, and Thora Fjeldsted , “Crafting Culture: The importance of craftsmanship for the world of the arts and the economy at large.” Erasmus University, June, 2012.

 

Who wants their children to be artisans sm-5720.jpgfrom a translation by Nilanjan Mondal, SKV Programme Coordinator

On 24 October 2016, the artisan design students of Somaiya Kala Vidya in Kutch participated in the final jury of their eleven-month course. Jury members included world renowned designer Ritu Kumar, Anuradha Kumra, senior designer for Fabindia, Gita Ram, Chairperson, Crafts Council of India, and Reena Bhatia, Design Faculty at Maharaja Sayajirao University Baroda. That evening, SKV held a seminar for the artisan design community and this expert panel. Following is a translation of the discussion.

From Handicraft to Design Craft: Marketing Tradition in the Contemporary World

Judy Frater, Founder Director, SKV- We started SKV to take a program to an institute, because design education is important for artisans. We have reached an era where craft is in demand, but artisans, whose heritage is craft traditions, are becoming laborers. So in our education we aim to bring value to art and artisan. When we held our final presentation I saw hope in artisans and their families. As Aslam realized, craft is not just livelihood. It is cultural heritage. When artisans value this, so will the world.  There are many challenges to bringing tradition to the appropriate market. I hope this evening we can take full benefit of our highly experienced panel with an open discussion between artisans and jury.

 Shweta Dhariwal, Designer and Moderator-Let’s begin with fashion. How important for an artisan is an understanding of trend forecast?

Anuradha Kumra, Senior Designer, Fabindia –I personally feel that it is very important for an artisan to have a fair idea what is going in the fashion world. I am not saying that artisans should follow trends blindly. They are a guideline. if artisans can take some direction or inspiration it is useful. Fashion is entertainment. Everything is in fashion. You just need to interpret properly. Artisans are now going to foreign countries and participating in different exhibitions. Everywhere people have different taste. You have to know the particular market or customers you are targeting, and what to include and what not to. When we buy products for Fabindia for example, we keep in mind that West Bengal’s taste is different from Ahmedabad’s. Trend forecasts can help you understand these variations.

Ritu Kumar, Designer – I agree with Anuradha to some extent, but at the same time I also feel that fashion, colour etc. does not work in the craft sector. Whatever you are making or producing has to be appealing.

Reena Bhatia, Faculty Maharaja Sayajirao University- You have traditional knowledge but if you are not able to make products according to market demand, you will never succeed. Taste changes. We did a project with weavers of Paitani saris. They had not innovated and were not getting enough work. We kept the same colours and fabric but changed some layouts and the saris sold.

Shamji Vishramji Siju, weaver and SKV Advisor- Based on my experience, I feel that we should balance fashion and tradition. Previously we used to make dhabla/ blankets. Now we are making stoles, dupattas, shawls, etc. But all are based on our traditional design. Market demand changes every year. If you focus only on fashion, two or three years later you may lose the market, but if you keep a balance of fashion and tradition, it will give you decent business for a long time.

Laxmi Kalyanji Puvar, suf embroiderer and SKV Faculty- What do customers want in suf embroidery? I made butterfly motifs in suf embroidery. Customers at an exhibition in Mumbai did not like them because they looked like machine embroidery and were modern. I explained my concept and my work. But customers advised me to stick to tradition.

Gita Ram, Chairperson, Crafts Council of India- If your design is good, colours are good, the quality of the fabric is good and you are in the right market then you do not need to think so much. Your product will sell.

Laxmi Kalyanji Puvar- I understand that, but I still want to know exactly what the market wants?

Ritu Kumar- The Market does not know what it wants! You have to show it what it wants!

Dahyalal Kudecha, weaver and SKV Faculty- We always talk about customers’ demands. What about artisans’ desires? Do we ever think what artisans actually want?

Anuradha Kumra- I would like to point out that you artisans actually brought market-oriented product innovation. I joined Fabindia in 2008 and that time there was a huge demand for short kurtas. The demand for dupattas was going down. You brought us stoles with the designs and colours of dupattas and it worked out tremendously. So you innovated on the product using a balance of market demand and tradition. Fabindia is proud to give you a platform where you can showcase your designs, your traditions, and your creativity.

Juned Ismail Khatri, Ajrakh Printer- Originally only three ajrakh products were made: a lungi, a turban and a shoulder cloth. Now you will find at least twenty ajrakh products. Allah has given us brains. We just need to use them. If you know how to balance between tradition and the fashion world, you do not need to think about how to get an order.

Adil Mustak Khatri, Bandhani Artist- Should craft be mass-produced? If the same design is replicated in 2,000 pieces or 3,000 or meters is it going in the right direction?

Reena Bhatia- If you are the creator of the design and are replicating it without compromising the quality of the product, it’s fine. It is good that a large number of people will get products you have designed. That will help you create your own brand, your own identity in the market.

Shweta Dhariwal-  It is many artisans’ dream to work with Fabindia. But considering Fabindia’s large-scale production, small-scale artisans can’t even think of it. What possibilities do artisans with limited production capacity have?

Anuradha Kumra – In weaving we started with Shamjibhai and gradually ordered from other artisans who had limited production capacity. We did this with other crafts too. In Fabindia, you are all welcome. We understand that all products can’t be mass-produced. We send some products to only 30 out of 200 stores, and some products to only 5 stores. We have many inspiring stories. One woman from Chennai started working with Fabindia in 2008, with only two sewing machines. Today she has 150 machines and her annual turnover is 6 crore.

Khalid Usman Khatri, Ajrakh Printer- Someone liked one of my products and placed a huge order. But I am a small artisan with limited production capacity. Should I take the order or should I leave it?

Anuradha Kumra – We have a very good example, Jabbarbhai, who gets orders for 30,000/ meters of running fabric. He takes the entire order and splits it between 5 or 6 people. Everyone is happy.

 Soyab Abdulkarim Khatri, Ajrakh Printer- You mentioned brand. All design and BMA graduates have created their individual brands. But how can we promote our brands in the market? We do not get invitations from some exhibition organizers, as they do not know us. What do you suggest?

Reena Bhatia- Have patience. Ritu Kumar is now a brand but she had to struggle forty-five years. Forty-five years ago the road was not as smooth as it is now. You can use e-commerce, Facebook and other social network sites, create a blog, a website.

Soyab Abdulkarim Khatri- I have been working with e-commerce sites and I have a personal website. But I still feel that I have not been able to promote my brand.

Reena Bhatia- Don’t try to rush. Keep doing good work. If your products are good they will automatically promote your brand.

Gita Ram- And I will invite you to exhibitions in Chennai, Hyderabad and Karnataka!

Abdulaziz Alimamad Khatri, Bandhani Artist- How can we solve the problem of design copying or stealing? For example, screen printers are printing block print designs in huge quantities. What kind of designs should we make so that they can’t be copied?

Ritu Kumar- I know this is a common problem in every craft. But keep in mind that people who are copying your design will not be able to make products with the same quality as you make. People copy because your work is good and there is a demand in the market. If you have nothing in your hand, nobody will copy you. But copying is actually diluting. If your craft is diluted, what is its future? Don’t be de-motivated. You have design education and lots of creativity. This is your intellectual property. Someone can steal your design but no one can steal your intellectual property. Keep going forward, make new designs.

Gulam Husain Umar Khatri, Bandhani Artist and SKV Advisor- As a traditional artisan, I feel that whatever happens, we should not lose our confidence. We have to be strong. As a real artisan we should make only quality products. Never compromise quality.

Khalid Usman Khatri- What should I do if, for example, I am asking Rs 500 for a particular product and the customer says Rs 450? If I do not sell it in that price he will go to another artisan.

Anuradha Kumra; – There is no right answer. You need to take decisions individually. I would say customers need to be more sensitive, and artisans should avoid competition among themselves. Otherwise it will be dirty.

Khalil Usman Khatri, Ajrakh Printer- We all know that Khadi Bhandar is a central government organization. A few months ago I bought some khadi from Khadi Bhandar, Bhuj. I had some doubts about the quality. Judyben confirmed that was not khadi. How can we find quality materials when we can’t trust a government agency?

Gita Ram – This is really unfortunate. There is a lot of corruption. The only recourse is for you to be knowledgeable and careful when you buy materials.

Shweta Dhariwal- Besides quality materials, what else do artisans need to consider to become successful in business?

Reena Bhatia- I feel that they should think of environmental sustainability. If artisans can focus on water use, how to store the rainwater and recycle dye baths, and even set up solar panels in workshops it will help to promote businesses and brands. Sustainability can be a selling point for products.

Shweta Dhariwal- How can the government provide for craft development?

Ritu Kumar- The government has a handicrafts development board, money, power, and facilities, and can assist craft development. But its role should be restricted to dispensing money and providing facilities to artisans. It should not interfere in design and marketing. I really object that the government calls for tenders in hiring designers. They select the designer who gives the lowest budget! Tell me how many good designers would apply in that situation? This has an adverse effect.

Sandeep Issrani, English Teacher, SKV- I feel that there is a lack of awareness about craft. We could increase awareness by launching a campaign about SKV’s work in schools, colleges and other institutes. Our design and business graduates can help us spread awareness.

Gita Ram- That would be a good direction, and I would like to tell you that in the South- in Hyderabad, Karnataka and Chennai- there are already craft teachers in every school.

Reena Bhatia – If I had never tasted jalebi I could never choose jalebi as my favorite sweet. The same is true with craft. If people do not know craft, how could we expect them to buy it? We have to increase customer awareness of craft.

Shamji Vishramji Siju- For the last few years we have already been bringing students from schools and colleges in Bhuj and Madhapur to Bhujodi. They spend the whole day observing the process of weaving and go back and share with their parents.

Shweta Dhariwal- SKV is doing artisan-to-artisan outreach, with artisan designers of Kutch guiding weavers from Bagalkot and embroiderers from Lucknow. Maybe SKV could do a project where artisan designers and faculty work with students of schools and colleges in Kutch.

Lokesh Ghai, Designer and SKV Governing Council Member – How can artisan designers and urban designers work together?

Ritu Kumar- This is a very important question for the next century. When an artisan becomes an artisan designer, s/he can develop designs and provide them to the world. I understand that many of the young generation feel that craft has a limited future. But you are the future of traditional craft. You have a tremendous resource. Do not dilute it.

Shweta Dhariwal- Let’s hear from this year’s soon-to-graduate artisan designers. What was your experience this year?

Mustafa Khalid Khatri, Ajrakh Printer- I had been block printing for two years. I did not want to be a job worker. I wanted to move ahead. The design course at SKV really brought changes in my attitude and thinking level. I gained the knowledge to describe my work and sell my products in the high-end market. SKV helped me open my mind.

Razak Anvarali Khatri, Bandhani Artist- SKV provided me confidence to make different kinds of designs and target the high-end market. I can play with design principles and hope people will like my work.

Poonam Arjan Vankar, Weaver- I have been weaving for the last 20 years. I have participated in various exhibitions. SKV helped me become more confident. Now I can see a bigger dream. If we do our craft well, there is great scope. We can be more successful than if we do a job.

Reena Bhatia- Can we all make a promise? How many of you will promise that you will teach your craft to your children?

(Here, the entire audience enthusiastically raises their hands.)

Abdulaziz Alimamad Khatri- I have the answer to your question. Today I came here with my daughter. I am a design graduate, but I never told my daughter to learn craft. Rather, I always respect her individual preferences. But now she is interested in craft, and she is learning bandhani from me. So it is a live example. We have already started the process.

 

 

 

 
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Years ago when I was researching Rabari textile traditions, I noticed that when Rabari women made applique quilts they always used new fabric. It seemed odd in a culture in which every resource, everything material, was consciously considered and carefully conserved. Then I realized the perfect economy of their garment construction. There was absolutely no fabric waste to conserve. So for ceremonial quilts, reserved to honour guests, they purchased cloth. But for everyday, Rabari families used quilts that were in fact practically patched from old garments and amazing aesthetic sensibilities.

All of these practices of Rabari women were governed by awareness and value. They knew the value of the fabrics of their lives. They cut the wool from their sheep, spun it by hand, walked the yarns over to the neighboring weaver, and when the shawls were woven and hand dyed, they collected them, stitched them together and decorated them with hand embroidery. Therefore they conserved them. And when the fabrics wore beyond several re-purposings and any possible further use, the Rabaris respectfully gave them to the sea.

Dorothy Burnham in her classic book, Cut My Cote, writes of the relationship between the cut of traditional garments and looms. “With today’s ease of manufacture we take textiles for granted and the wasting of cloth does not worry us. But for those closer to the processes of production the attitude changes, and an extreme economy of material was practiced in the cutting of traditional garments. …Full benefit was obtained from it and nothing was left over.”

Contemporary India views tradition through the lens of the industrial model.

Although machines have taken over the work of essential, hand made traditions continue to be considered in terms of productivity, and fixation on productivity has led society to perceive artisans as under-productive, poor guys needing a hand. Government policies view craft as languishing, and subsidize handloom artisans to produce plain white cotton-polyester sheets for the Indian Railways, and yardage for children’s school uniforms, while higher value products such as saris and dupattas are woven in volume by power looms.

Clearly, the sustainable practices and creative capacity of craft are grossly under-valued.

But elsewhere, a hopeful change in psychological climate is happening. People are speaking of a creative economy and cultural consumption. Damage to the environment, and financial recession have forced people to re-think their values. Consumer demand has shifted towards value-centered products that meet emotional as well as functional needs. People are buying hand made as a unique and also ethical route for consuming objects. They consider buying the unique as an experience, and a new way of signaling connoisseurship.

On Black Friday, November 25, 2011 Patagonia, a popular outdoor clothing and gear company, launched an astonishing campaign, “Don’t Buy this Jacket.” “It’s time for us as a company to address the issue of consumerism and do it head on,” the spokesperson said. “The most challenging, and important, element of the Common Threads Initiative is this: to lighten our environmental footprint. Everyone needs to consume less.”

Less product, more value: Cultural consumption.

This is the original model of the Rabari women. Vishramji Valji, a master weaver in a Rabari village in Kutch describes it eloquently, “Rabaris were our fixed clients and we had a personal connection. The feeling of the weaver, in the time of our ancestors, was that he would weave for the one who would wear his work, wanting to make it good, strong, so that as the weaving was used and until it wore away the owner would remember the artisan’s name.”

This is the essence of traditional craft.

Cloth was woven as a part-time occupation, in lulls of the agricultural cycle. Production was close to customized, and fabric lasted, was valued, and up-cycled before the term was coined. Artisans did not need to produce so much.

Traditional production was not faster, cheaper and more standard; it was slow, valuable and infinitely rich with character.

In the current issue of Selvedge magazine, Lucy Siegle writes on “The True Cost of Fashion.”

Traditions can demonstrate an alternative. Value will genuinely guide us from rampant consumerism to sustainable, cultural consumption.

The education for artisans program with which I have been working for a decade seeks to change the perception of the value of the artisan and the hand made, to increase value rather than volume, and improve the quality of life for people and planet.

Today, young artisans about to graduate reflected on their year of design education.

Aslam Abdul Karim Khatri, “As a production printer, I saw my craft as “roji-roti.” But in learning design, I realized that the tradition is far more important. It is our heritage and we need to value and maintain it.”

Pachan Premji Siju, “I already wove for a living. What I have now done with my weaving is what is important. I realized the value of one good piece compared to yards of production.”

Sohel internal jury sm-0300
A few days ago I was invited to A Consultative Workshop on Policy Challenges in the Handicrafts Sector in Gujarat.
Since I have pretty much avoided government after several frustrating experiences, I had to take a deep breath and alter my perspective. In the end, it was a worthwhile exercise, and I am sharing here what I came up with.

So here is what I recommended that the Government can do for craft, in three parts:

1. RE-VISIT THE BASIC PREMISE of ARTISAN AND CRAFT
First, reimagine craft and artisans– if that is possible. There is an internationally shared perception about artisans in developing countries that is deeply embedded. I come across it constantly. Here are a few recent examples:

*A designer for a high end western company was annoyed that an Indian artisan should sell his work in a western country at western prices. She thought that it should be valued at his daily income in his country.

*An agency to which I submitted images of artisans studying in our Business and Management course wanted images of our process. Education is our process.
*Our website designer similarly felt we needed to include images of artisans. I had to explain that the men and women in the classes ARE artisans.
They both expected to see women wearing veils bent over their work- no faces necessary; workers.

*Talking of co-design, one company said they loved co-design, and then sent me the standard spec sheet with nary a hair’s breadth for variation. They wanted a technician, a worker.

We need to change the bechara perception of artisans, to think of them as artisans, not workers. We need to find a new language for discussion, not “languishing,” “helping” or “saving.”

We need to think of artisans as professionals, and encourage entrepreneurship, self-reliance, self-respect, responsibility.

This means thinking in terms of opportunity rather than subsidy.

Do not even think of craft and industry in the same discussion. Encourage two separate markets. Rahul Jain recently wrote a very thought provoking article in Mint about this.

Do not think of craft wherein the goal is big production, faster, cheaper, more standard. This will, hopefully! eliminate ideas such as hand loom for railway sheets, polyester school uniform yardage, and towels. Craft should aim for a high end, luxury market.

2. CONSIDER WHAT ARTISANS NEED
Access to quality raw materials. This means
*Easy loans
*Information on suppliers- a sample bank with contact information

Accessible Education in design- in terms of language, culture, timing and cost
Accessible Education in Business, Management and Entrepreneurship

Information on markets, perhaps an annotated dynamic data base- a Wikipedia of domestic and international craft markets

Marketing opportunities that are good- carefully selected venues, good advertising campaigns, good mailing lists- and good sales
Artisans can be called to apply to events and selected on a juried basis- transparent and fair, with feedback on making more saleable products next time

Effective, easy to access Health care/ insurance policies
Provident funds or the equivalent

3. WHAT ELSE THE GOVERNMENT CAN DO
Market craft. The Gujarat Government has proved very capable in marketing- note how they have marketed tourism! Get a high profile brand ambassador
Craft can be marketed as a great and wonderful resource, not a good deed

Provide an exclusive market for replicas of the excellent National or State Awards – one of a kind or limited editions

Encourage higher end shops

Make schemes easy to access and easy to implement
Work transparently and honestly as partners, to facilitate

When thinking this through, I remembered an interview I did in 2003 with Dr. Ismail Khatri, Ajrakh master and recipient of an honorary doctorate from DeMontfort University in UK. Asked what the Government could do for artisans, he replied:

“Provide good roads, clean water, reliable phone and mail service, and relevant education within a reasonable proximity of villages. In addition to that, socialized medicine and effluent treatment would benefit us a lot. If the Government just provides these basic facilities, we can take care of crafts. If we can devote our energies fully to our work, there is no need of subsidy.”

lilies sm-0022Gratitude is the key to happiness. I heard that on a TED talk by Brother David Steindl-Rast, a monk and interfaith scholar. I was on a long flight and had exhausted all of the movies I thought worth seeing. So I listened to the TED talk. At first I thought it was hokey. But when I listened, I realized he had an important point. Simple, but true. Gratitude makes you happy. In addition, a friend of mine was doing gratitudes every day, so I started to think about things for which I am grateful.

One is the lilies in the courtyard of our office. They are sort of shaggy, not the most beautiful flower. But their fragrance is intoxicating. Every evening when I leave, I make sure to stop and inhale that heavenly fragrance.

It occurred to me that there is even more that these lilies offer, a secret. When I inhale their scent, it does not diminish it. I could inhale all day, and they would still offer that delicious fragrance. The whole neighborhood could line up and inhale. That would not make their offering less. This is a lesson on giving. Many times what we fear is finite is not. If I give credit to someone, for example, it does not diminish me. Counter intuitive, maybe, but in fact it can increase value. The return factor, win-win.

Today, the gardener came, and he chopped down all of the lilies. Robust stems with fully opened flowers and bunches of buds about to open lay on the cement courtyard. I shouted at him, but he was on a task. Have shears, will cut.
What was he thinking? How can a person whose job is to care for plants chop off the flowers for which we grow the plants?

So here was one more lesson these poor lilies, cut down in their prime, could offer: don’t lose sight (or scent) of what your work really is.

This is the folly of getting handloom weavers to crank out yards of white cotton-polyester for school uniforms or bed sheets for the Indian Railways.
What are they thinking?

Be grateful for whatever beauty you can find in life, and eternally grateful if you have sense. It is not as common as we wish.

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When I reached the office yesterday, our staff, IRMA intern and guest were passionately discussing the viability of craft as business. Eventually, we got to, ‘who are the workers?’, a blog topic I tabled some time ago because I could not come up with a good answer for this question. But it is a critical question, so here goes.

First, I ask, why scale? Who says craft has to scale up? Is this simply an assumption based on an industrial-oriented society? Traditionally, craft was never done in big scale. In fact, it was a part-time occupation, in lulls of the agricultural cycle. The consumers, traditionally, were well known and production was close to customized.

The problem I have with scaling up is that it extinguishes the essence of hand made craft. If craft is mass produced, what is the meaning of hand work?

So, who are these customers today who want craft on a large scale? Young people who buy jeans and T-shirts in mall department stores? I think we need to profile the craft customer and probe deeply, and see where these customers are, what they want, and how many of them are out there.

My guess is that the customer for craft is not very interested in mass production; that is why he/she is buying craft. In Bagalkot, I asked the weavers, who is buying the hand woven Ilkal sari, when there is a power loom copy? Why does the hand loom Ilkal sari still exist? Do the customers prefer handloom quality? The kondi system? Is it sentimentality or loyalty?

Would this craft consumer not value limited editions or customization?

But we can no longer guess. We need to have data.

Eventually, the issue of scale also brings us to workers. For a long time, artisan designers have been struggling with a shortage of workers. I have fought for artisans to be recognized as more than workers. But, in order to produce craft on a larger scale, workers are needed. I sincerely hope that our design and business education programs are not simply producing more “Master Artisans.” As businesses grow, artisan designers seem to get farther from being artisans.

For now, that very well may be artisans’ goals. This is the existing model, available to them: artisans no longer working but getting work done.

To some extent, the model is a manifestation of the Peter Principle, a concept in management theory. “The selection of a candidate for a position is based on his/her performance in a current role rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and “managers rise to the level of their incompetence.”

I am using the concept here not necessarily to indicate incompetence, but to indicate leaving excellent competence behind.

Can we envision an alternative model? A sustainable solution? Can we create a model from the original situation, in which the Artisan Designer creates his/ her own samples (at least!) and remains an artisan, using his/her best capacity?

I would like to envision small scale- designer-makers or artisan designers, doing personal-based work, deriving satisfaction from it. This is not the only model for the future of craft. It may not work for masses of artisans, and won’t work for consumers who do want huge orders. But the masses of artisans are declining, and this alternative model can be a viable option for artisans who want or need to be creative.

For men’s textile crafts: weaving, printing and dyeing, workers could be employed as artisans-in-training to fulfill orders deemed appropriate in scale, with the assumption that the workers will eventually begin their own enterprises. In this model, workers can eventually be encouraged to be creative- like Dayabhai- so that they can stand on their own feet. That is the entrepreneur model.

In the case of embroidery- and maybe bandhani- we can promote the Hariyaben model, where the Master Artisan directs but does not dictate.
This model can allow for great latitude in personal expression within parameters– of say, colour and cost. The goal could be one of a kind or limited edition.

This vision is highly diversified, relatively small in scale.
It is scaling out, rather than scaling up. The amount of work produced would be about the same- maybe more! But the diversity, de-centralization and ownership would be vastly increased.

If nothing else, at least Dilli Haat would not be so repetitive and, well, factory-outlet in nature. And craft could become more like craft.

Somaiya Kala Vidya’s imminent sister business Design Craft will be an important flagship for this model….