Indian Textile Market: How Artisans are Coping Post-Covid Era

Fashion design student and Indian textile enthusiast Aayushi Berawala discusses how craftsmen can grow the Indian textile market to reach the modern consumer. 

Source: 2019-20 census report

In a world of rapid digitization, where people are turning towards automation and artificial learning; handcrafted products are still valued in India. 2019 saw a growth of technology start-ups striving to empower local artisans. And, the Indian textile market industry exported more than ₹128 billion worth of products. After the ‘Make in India’ campaign launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it became a global hashtag for Indians.

Current Status of Indian Textile Market

The Indian textile market industry is the second-largest sector in terms of providing employment after agriculture. It falls under the category of the unorganized or informal sector in India. The estimates for the people working in this sector varies from around 40-200 million. The size of the Indian textile market industry is between ₹15,000-25,000 crores.

ministry of tourism indian textile market
Ministry of Tourism via Twitter

Manjari Narula of Delhi Crafts Council (DCC) said, “One of the biggest challenges facing the handicrafts sector is the unavailability of reliable data. Whatever data is available is anecdotal.” India’s youngsters are aspirational but have little time to appreciate the details that go into the traditional handicrafts. Though, Indian textile market has kept pace with changing times making an impact on the economy, fashion, & sociology.

The Indian textile market ministry recently abolished all India handicrafts and handloom boards. Shantmanu, Textile Ministry’s Development Commissioner, mentioned, “In consonance with the government of India vision of ‘Minimum Government and Maximum Governance”. Earlier, the board was an official forum where all craftspeople could raise their problems and had the right to advise the government on policy and spending directly through advisors. As the 70-year-old handicrafts board is abolished, it is now the government’s turn to take the initiative to support the artisans. If no further steps are taken, Indian textile market would be ruined, and the livelihood of the artisans would also be in danger.

We all know that Indian handicrafts and textiles have sustained our culture and preserved our heritage for centuries. But do we really encourage our artisans for sustaining our crafts? And, the various steps taken by the government for Indian artisans?

Pre-Covid & Post-Covid Times for Artisans

During COVID-19 lockdown, work from home has become the new normal for professionals around the world. But artisans had always worked from home as most of them are based in their native villages producing apparel, accessories, and other handloom items.

Jaya Jaitley, Founder and President of Dastkari Haat Samiti, mentioned, “Atmanirbharta” or Make in India does not seriously include lifting the handcraft. Hand skills sector will be a crime against our centuries of cultural heritage and its potential to create a better future.

Folk artists have spent their whole lives practicing their heritage crafts, whether they are Kutchi work of Gujarat or Chikankari of Uttar Pradesh for their livelihoods. During the pandemic, many have lost their livelihoods. Also, our heritage is in danger due to the pandemic as tourism has seriously declined.

The New Opportunities

Amitabh Kant, NITI Aayog CEO mentioned, “India is uniquely placed to provide experiential tourism, which will be the hallmark of the post-Covid-19 era, considering the wealth of cultural diversity and heritage sites in the country”. He also mentioned at the second HT tourism conclave, “Post-Covid there will be a massive opportunity for India, once it builds seamless travel experience”.

Now, the tourism world will move towards experiential and shorter trips. People will now focus on the uniqueness of Indian culture, heritage, archaeology, or nature. Also, these experiences will help them rediscover themselves too.

Ujwala Jodha, Director of Dastkar Ranthambhore Handicrafts Company said regarding Ranthambore National Park, “The area around the national park was promoted as a big crafts hub”. In Sawai Madhopur, artisans practiced block printing as the traditional craft, near the national park. They have helped revive it, and around 300 artisans are now attached to their center. However, due to the pandemic, the monthly sales of around ₹40 lakh have plummeted to zero today.

As per the preliminary estimates of the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH), due to the pandemic, the handicraft sector could cause a loss of about ₹ 8000 to ₹ 10,000 crores. According to a 2019 Indian Textile Industry report, thee are 43.31 lakh handloom weavers and allied workers in the country, including in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Also, according to the 2019-20 National Census of Handloom Weavers; there are more than 31.44 lakhs of households using weaving and other allied activities for their livelihoods. These local artisans are not similar to migrant workers. They are always being ignored, therefore today their livelihood is in danger.

confederation of Indian ministry Indian textile market
Confederation of Indian industry via Twitter

During National Handloom’s Day 2020, PM Narendra Modi tweeted that, “On National Handloom Day, we salute all those associated with our vibrant handicrafts…. all spread hashtag #Vocal4Handmade and strengthen efforts towards an Aatmanirbhar Bharat”. Also, Indians have celebrated festivals with handicrafts and textiles from traditional saree to handmade diyas.

smriti irani on National handlooms day 2020 artisans support
Smriti Irani In Ajarakh Saree via Instagram

Bollywood celebs and other Government officials have also celebrated Handloom Day with some or other handicraft products. Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Kangana Ranaut adorned Indian textiles and captioned on Instagram and Twitter, promoting artisan’s handworks. Smriti Irani, Minister of Textiles and Child Development, celebrated Handloom day on Instagram and captioned her Ajrakh saree promoting #Vocal4Handmade.

kangana ranaut Dia Mirza traditional saree
Kangana Ranaut (L), Dia Mirza (R) via Instagram

Also, this Diwali NDTV collaborated with Habba, an Indian non-profit organization, and took a fundraiser initiative to provide help to weavers and artisans. The main objective of HandmadeDilse Telethon was to bring back the demand for handmade and revive their livelihood.

ministry of textile #vocal4local this diwali

Artisans are willing to renovate their styles to match today’s trends and fashion. We have seen many top Indian fashion designers are focusing on traditional crafts, for example, Tarun Tahiliani, Anita Dongre, Sabyasachi, and many more.

Also, through government FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry) has organized the world’s largest virtual fair ‘One World, One Craft’. ICW (India Craft Week) 2020 for all the Indian crafts from textile to home furnishing and many more in Delhi. India Craft Week is an art and craft celebration of exceptional international quality.

This brings all the craftspeople together from all around the world like brands, designers, artisans, etc. It provides various opportunities to the participants, like, classes, activities to acquire new knowledge, and much more. Along with that, everyone can buy craft products from different folk, tribal, and cultures.

Customers’ Reaction

Although people want traditional crafts in their wardrobe, many aren’t willing to pay for the craftsmen’s hard works or don’t understand the pricing vs. value.

During the lockdown, designer labels like Karishma Sahani’s HearttoHaat label, Macrame India, Atticstorz by Kavia Udhayasuriyan, etc. They are bringing the magic of Indian textiles to people through online channels in a fashionable way. People have tried some of their creativity, whether it is for home decors to apparel and accessories using crochet, macrame, or tie & dye techniques. People now know how many skills are required to make one beautiful craft and they want that, but at affordable prices.

Atticstorz indian textile market
Hearttohaat (L), Atticstorz (R) via Instagram

To research this, I had a conversation with my friends and one or two industry people about the artisan’s prices. So, according to them, the customers don’t have enough knowledge about the handicraft’s pricing system. I also talked to Mohan Rao Macherla, Founder President of National Federation of Handlooms and Handicrafts, Chirala. He mentions, “In the Chirala area, price calculation is from fabric prices plus raw materials; wages and artisans’ skills plus 15% for manufacturers”.

To bring transparency to modern customers, artisans & retailers should mention this pricing system at exhibitions or sales to target large Indian textile markets. This will also make the Indian consumer more aware about the crafts, artisans’ hard work and the worth of the product.

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