Time to harness the potential of crafts and textiles: analysis
India has an estimated 16 million artisans, living mainly in rural India, who are actively involved in some of the most complex textile processes the world has ever seen. This is not an insignificant number. These artisans constitute a highly qualified workforce, with a great knowledge of specialized processes, learned from master artisans, who led unions for centuries, of complex designs.
It was in the 1960s that I discovered the art of gold embroidery in a rural setting, in small villages in West Bengal, where crafts were practiced. The origin of the ship is said to have been Iran, and it reached India during the Sultanate. The embroidery of these towns was once sponsored by the Bengal Nawabs. India is full of workshops in towns like these, which cannot survive without financing and infrastructure.
After the coronavirus pandemic, the reality is that the handloom and craft sector in India needs a way to survive. Today there is no relevance in government-run emporiums.
Our philosophy is completely wrong. An aesthetically attractive and eco-friendly superior handloom product cannot be sold out of compassion, but needs modern marketing and retail technology, and must be projected as the best in the world. This is the only way to survive in a competitive market.
A fact that is not commonly known is that the textile sector is the second largest employer in rural India, after agriculture. India was the world’s largest supplier of textiles 200 years ago. By 1947, this became a nation using copies of its own textiles, largely in the industrial areas of England. This bankrupt rich artisan economy of India is causing destitution in rural Indian markets.
It is a miracle that after Independence, due to government efforts to revive traditional crafts, India has been able to recreate many of its forgotten textile crafts. This was forward thinking at its best and was not easily accomplished. A sustained and progressive revival movement was needed to save India’s artisanal heritage. This was successfully launched with a series of “Viswakarma” exhibitions, which showcased the sophisticated creations of this renaissance in prestigious museums. The program generated a great deal of excitement, and the wealthy middle class became the largest sponsor of these textiles. This was unlike many other countries where priceless textiles were relegated to dusty museums. In India, these creations, and not the fashion of international ramps, became aspirational garments for urban consumers, especially women.
In an effort to create interest in Indian crafts internationally, exhibitions of “Vishwakarma” were exhibited through the Indian Festivals in the most prestigious museums in world capitals. This highlighted the richest crafts traditions left in the world. This once again caught the attention of the fashion frat abroad. India was back on the world fashion map.
In the past two decades, the Indian fashion industry has come a long way. And unlike the rest of the world, it boasts of having an indigenous team of designers. These do not necessarily mean only those displayed on the ramps, but also those present in rural fields. They are weavers, embroiderers, and creators of embellishments that no one in the world can create. Most of Indian haute couture and glamor can be attributed to handmade crafts. In India, the garments of the maharajas and royal contests serve as the theme for large and small Indian weddings. Their imitations have flooded shopping malls, boutiques, towns haats and bazaars in smaller markets. Each has its own version, creating a theatrical Indian ethnic fashion.
With the recessionary trend that the pandemic is causing, it is time for the government to step in, as they did in the 1950s, to save Indian crafts. The drop in retail sales of high-end products will dampen the scale of the celebrations. Most of the high-end production will go from handmade alternatives to mechanized alternatives. Today’s world produces textiles using sophisticated machinery. India’s vast repertoire of designs may end up being used only as inspiration, as is the case in China, which produces copies of woven Benares sarees, among a large number of other textile products, and sells them at a fraction of the price to India. . This has destroyed the market for handlooms in Varanasi. After the pandemic, we have a real livelihood problem on our hands here, as well as one of the intellectual properties of textiles that faces a real threat.
The government has to think outside the box, intervene and support new companies. This is a lucrative market. It can be managed and marketed by a professionally managed, state-of-the-art organization that also offers online retail spaces. The only way to do this is to become a conduit for the customer to buy directly from the artisan, which would involve minimal overhead. It can be easily accomplished.
Let’s take a look at the USP in this sector. Crafts can best be generated in farm settings. They do not require a change from the rural to the urban scenario, thus avoiding the ghettoization of their heirs.
Requires little investment in production infrastructure or skill development. It will be the only Made in India by Hand brand in the world.
Ritu Kumar is a fashion designer
The opinions expressed are personal.