The acquisition of skill is a cognitive achievement.
And so, making something beautiful, is a sublime expression of the creators knowledge!
What really defines the people who make things by hand, is the never-ending possibilities of learning about one’s trade. The sensory faculties of a craftsperson are constantly at work when they are creating. They listen to their tools, they see the finish of the materials and feel the materials and their tools and listen to them talk back to deftly carve out meaning out of nothing. These skills are honed by years and years of practice. They work with a deep sense of understanding and meaning to what they are doing. For a craftsperson it’s a personal journey to reach a higher being through the act of creation. But many brands fail to focus on that one individual who, to make the product, utilises this vast knowledge base acquired from practice and through their family involved for generations in evolving the craft to its present glory. The creator often remains unknown.
Back in 2016, Sandeep Dhopate, the founder of Soolkaama chanced upon a community of sheep herders that lived in a remote village very close to a nature reserve. It was a small village where 20 odd households each owning 30 odd sheep were creating rugs and blankets as a family occupation. The rugs were made with simple tools using wool from sheep that were reared at home. Far away from the crowded towns, in the midst of a verdant nature reserve, the rug weavers, unaware of market pressures, were producing high quality products that should have fetched them a handsome price but due to lack of market linkages they were selling them in neighbouring villages for a paltry 400 Rs. As Sandeep was about to leave the place, an elder resident happened to mention the name of his village . It was “Soolkaama”. This is where the inspiration for Soolkaama originated.
As the story of the village of Soolkaama shows, there are many issues plaguing the current traditional Indian craft industry from making a mark in the world arena. Soolkaama believes that one of main reasons why the Indian handicraft industry is not more successful internationally is because of poor marketing decisions. Current marketing strategies focus on product presentation and fail to capture the true essence of making by hand i.e. the hand itself.
Recognition for one’s skill is the highest reward for an artist. To be denied that, is just morally wrong.
Soolkaama seeks to change the way in which traditional hand made products are marketed by giving the artisan the voice and recognition they deserve.
The realities that manifest in Indian villages like Soolkaama raise several issues such as
|Are Handicraft traditions in India dying out? If so, why?||Why is there little respect for these traditions and consequently, the artisan’s skill?||Why is the artist not making enough money?||Why is the youth migrating to congested cities to do menial jobs?|
|Are machines driving down prices for hand made products?||Why is the global demand for handmade on the rise?||While global demand for hand made is on the rise why is the local artisan unaware of this growth?||Why do current marketing strategies celebrate heritage but not include the people who are responsible to keep it alive against all odds?|
|Why are IP laws related to Geographical Indication (GI) certified crafts not honoured in India?|
Craft was always more about the utility first and decoration second since time immemorial. Why do current design interventions focus more on aesthetics than utility?
|Why do artisan’s rarely use the products they make?||Do the communities within which the artisan’s live, need the products they make? Or is it exclusively for a customer in some far away urban city?|
|Why is the product quality of Indian handicrafts perceived to be inferior?||Are the NGO’s and social enterprises involved with the artisan’s short staffed to provide required skills?|
|Promoting the age old traditional knowledge of the artisan in a manner that elevates him beyond his creation and honours the most critical element, which is his skill, that’s essential to create the products in the first place. Artist first, his creation second!||Promoting the craft through consumer awareness of GI regions of India||Developing marketing communication strategies that tell touching stories about the artisan’s trials and triumphs and as an indirect result generate a personal affinity to his creations|
|Educating artisans about global quality standards for handmade objects||Educating artisans on global contemporary aesthetics so that they can organically evolve the craft by blending these aesthetics into traditional ways of making by hand||Producing less, but allowing more time to maintain artisanal quality achievable only with human hands|
|Restoring the aspirational value of hand made by selling through niche channels that cater to consumers that value traditional methods of making by hand||Keeping it real by not employing gimmicks that glorify tradition and heritage as if this is a thing of the past and as if it existed in isolation of the people responsible to maintain it||Most brands talk about the product and then talk about the producer in relation to the product. Soolkaama wants to turn this on its head. Talk more about the artisan and their personal journeys and then talk about the products made in relation to their achievements|
Soolkaama aims to explore the ground realities of artisans. We want to understand which circumstances affect the spiritual realm that has been the hallmark of Indian craft traditions. A tradition within which the maker, attempting to seek the divine, was afforded the time, space and money to create beautiful objects reflecting the true majesty of the human skill.
In today’s world that is globally connected in ways never possible before, the corporations and the governments are becoming increasingly complicated to understand and so there is a drive to go back to the specific, the immediate, the physical, to a sphere of operations that one can actually understand and control. Making by hand today, is a reaction to the fast paced, mechanised, mass production of goods that alienates the creator from that what is created and the consumer from respecting the creation.