‘Crafts sector’s future promising but conducive ecosystem a must for ways to engage entrepreneurial minds’


The mushrooming “conscious” middle class offers a potential and thriving market for the crafts sector. (Source: Thinkstock Images)

Ease of Doing Business for MSMEs: The crafts sector in India was undoubtedly one of the worst-hit sectors of the Indian economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nation-wide lockdowns were followed by months of no sale or business and a bleak prospect of things returning to normal. However, as lives are slowly limping back to normalcy, it is not surprising to sense new and exciting avenues that arise for this sector at this unprecedented time. The pandemic has resulted in expeditious lifestyle shifts which have indeed redefined ways to do business. Hence, this is an appropriate time to introspect business models and collaborate in newer ways. The handloom and handicraft sector in India is the second-largest employment provider after agriculture. It is claimed that an aggregate of 40-200 million people are associated with this sector. The volume of the industry stands at around Rs 15,000-25,000 crore.

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Owing to the lockdown and the increased online engagement, this sector has received some profound attention and interest. Words like art, artisans, and craftsmen were commonly discussed while asking for generous donations from customers and the general public alike during the tough times. This threw open a new horizon of discussion and debate, one that surrounds survival and reimagination of crafts in the contemporary era and why that matters.

The mushrooming “conscious” middle class offers a potential and thriving market for the crafts sector. The growing concern about the importance of preserving one’s heritage, sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyles provide a window of opportunity to this sector that previously did not exist on this scale. The crafts industry is also one field that is resilient to the job crisis witnessed globally from time to time. The expanding foreign markets and the malls’ entry into the urban scenario have doubled its income scope. It is also a sector that requires minimum business capital investment and has significantly fewer debts.

The present scenario brings forth the need for a comprehensive amalgamation of intervention and innovation in digital technology as well as physical technology that is related to this field to ensure the survival of trade and turn it into a flourishing business. Some key points that can transform the craft business are discussed below:

This unique industry situation calls for proactive steps to boost the entire genre. The first step can be the sourcing and tabulation of reliable and scientific data. One of the most significant drawbacks that the crafts sector faces is the absence of credible data. According to Manjari Narula of Delhi Crafts Council, the data available for this industry is informal and highly unorganised.

Innovation in the crafts industry is much-required to promote the spirit of modern tech-driven entrepreneurship. GI (Geographical Indication) tags are a great step in this direction. In a similar line, craft traders and artisans can multiply ease of operation by going for RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags. These tags will help them with real-time tracking of goods and inventories which ensure higher sales opportunities and a smooth checkout experience. RFID tags will also help in formulating trade-appropriate strategies aimed at efficient supply chain management.

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The approach towards marketing crafts also needs to be updated. It is now clear that online presence is no longer a choice and is a requisite. The internet is also the perfect medium to put across the intimate story of an artifact. Consumers can be targeted precisely across the world through a result-oriented action plan that will multiply engagement. The power of visual engagement that the web provides can work wonders for driving business for the craft industry.

Robust entrepreneurship and crude marketing, sales, and advertising strategies need to come into the center stage. Stakeholders from various areas of the digital medium can employ collaborative brainstorming to harness the power of appropriate content creation and presentation that will appeal to a wider audience.

Another crucial change that can work for this industry is the evolution and adaptation of the products to match the utility of modern life. The crafts industry cannot churn out profits from mere nostalgia. It has to catch up to the current realities of changing consumer behaviour, rapid urbanisation, and a generation that has little knowledge of the intricate detailing in a piece of craft. There is a market beyond the emporiums that needs to be captured. The product approach for this industry should shift from decorative and ornamental to functional. This calls for a fraternising work environment involving design schools, local artisans, merchants, and institutional buyers.

Industry players can shift the value proposition of craft products to eco-friendly, sustainable, affordable, and highly functional so that buyers can witness a high return on investment. These values can be cleverly marketed so that crafts become a part of regular life. Business and supply communication should also transform, and entrepreneurs should go to the craftsmen to source products instead of them coming to the cities.

The prospect for the crafts industry is surely promising. A conducive business ecosystem can create ways to engage the bright entrepreneurial minds who can turn this segment into a strong area for start-ups and capitalize on the merger of tradition and technology. There can be a profitable enterprise that makes sustainable building materials which also helps in temperature control in houses that are built using different clays that artisans use to make artifacts. The skilled jaali makers can be asked to recreate their ancient magic in contemporary homes which will not only help in ventilation but also mesmerise the residents with light and shadow play every morning and evening.

It is time that the crafts industry receives the attention it deserves. With the current push for local products, this sector is indeed in a rich position. Right resources and investment can push this industry towards a thriving sector driving millions to prosperity. Start-ups and entrepreneurs can optimally utilise this opportunity by combining grassroot experience with a reconstituted marketing approach to this traditional trade.

Chintan Bakshi is Partner – Incubation at startup incubator CIIE.CO, IIM Ahmedabad; and CEO at Startup Oasis. Views expressed are the author’s own.

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