Post COVID-19 – Crafts and TechnologySoolkaama
Author – Laila Tyabji
What unites these many diverse partners is the seriousness of the situation and knowing how essential it is for us to all work with each other if craft and the makers of craft are to survive. For the first time, normally secretive retailers, designers, and entrepreneurs are sharing their artisan lists, naming their karigars and directing orders and donations directly to them. They realise that individually they cannot support them all, and that if their karigars go under, so will their own businesses. The realisation has also hit home that the way we market craft has to change. And for that too, we all need each other. It’s going to be a long time before the public will flock to Dilli Haat, Paramparik and the Dastkar Bazaars, and before craftspeople themselves will travel to metro cities that are hotspots for the virus. Sourcing too will have to change. Entrepreneurs and designers will have to go to the craftspeople rather than the other way round.
The channels of communication therefore have to evolve. All of us, except a few who ask “what about the touch and feel experience that is so integral to buying craft?” have realised that going online is inevitable. Here too, we need the help of each other. If craft products have to be appealing online, they need to look good, be presented with skill and style. I see another opportunity here. We all agree that half the charm of a craft object is the process, the maker and the tradition. The internet enables us to present this effectively and creatively, without physically having to transport the artisan and his equipment and tools to the spot. To have the maker tell the story, show the material, and the technique that transforms it… If we can only do this successfully, in a visually engaging way, it will make up for that lack of touch and feel.
Few entrepreneurs, let alone NGOs and artisans, have the skills of presentation, photography, content, digital knowhow, or the human resources to make this happen overnight. Here is an area where we should pull in other professionals and work in partnership. Is it idealistic to think of one wonderful craft portal, naming both makers and sellers, instead of us all competing for the same online space? An Amazon of craft, but so much better, more creative and also more caring?
If the market and the means to market has changed, the product too needs to change – at every segment of the consumer spectrum. It will be a long time before the demand for designer gowns and elaborate wedding lehengas costing lakhs will revive – social distancing means that partying is a thing of the past, at least in the short term. And with international travel on hold, cheap tourist souvenirs too will not be in demand. I don’t see people investing in expensive purely decorative pieces for their homes either for some time.
With many of the international players and brands that supplied the world with garments, accessories, home furnishings, furniture, tableware, toys etc in distress, and China also struggling to recover, this is an opportunity to make Make in India really happen, and to take over China’s place as the ‘Maker to the World’. We used to be that! Indians too should be tempted back to ‘Buy Local, Buy Indian’ as those international brands become less easily available.
The appeal of selling at a bazaar was its catch-all quality, given the diversity of its visitors – students, Bollywood stars, diplomats and foreign tourists, boutique owners, export buyers. Craftspeople therefore made and brought along a bit of everything, with differing price ranges, colours, and designs, hoping to make some sales to someone, or secure an order for something.
Part of the process should be a branding and advertising campaign: telling the story, projecting the magic and uniqueness of Indian craft. The ‘Incredible India’ campaign had Indians, along with the rest of the world, rediscover this country. We now need to make them discover the skills, range and power of Indian craftspeople.
The finance minister’s stimulus package left out this huge sector, the second largest in India, but here is now an opportunity for the government to join hands with all of us in the crafts sector and make it happen. A starting point must be knowing exactly how many million craftspeople we are talking about. Amazingly, that’s something we are still making guesses about.