Innovating New Paradigms of Value in Handicrafts

Bhatt, Jatin, Founder Director of Edusign Consulting Pvt. Ltd.is a 1977 graduate of National Institute of Design (NID) with a specialization in Industrial Design.

His new initiative Edusign Consulting (www.edusign.in) is focused on education, training, design & product development from macro strategies to finer details; from process to products. Offering a six months program ‘Curating the Commerce of Crafts’, in collaboration with Dastkar, designed to develop compassionate and informed business leadership based on inclusive practices of partnering with artisan communities. The core of the program is to appreciate and build on unique identities of crafts as a differentiating business strategy.

Prof. Bhatt conceived the Accessory Design Department at NIFT as its first indigenous program. The program was pioneering in its industry-academic interface and expanded to five unique specializations in different NIFT centers. He was the Dept. Chair from 1991 to early 2008.

With diverse professional design experience in consumer goods, packaging, machine tools, ITES, handicrafts, automobiles, education, training, cluster development and exhibitions he has been involved with various institutions and organizations including IICD Jaipur, Japan Design Foundation, World Gold council, CDI Kashmir, CRC Khamir, Kutch, ICG Jaipur, Pearl Academy of Fashion, New Delhi, UNDP and more in the capacities of founding chair, visiting faculty, external examiner, expert, consultant, advisor, mentor and on the governing bodies.

Prof. Bhatt has been a Judge on many national & international competitions and has presented papers as keynote speaker, design expert & design educationist at many forums in India and abroad.

October - November 2008, Craft Revival Trust
All business processes and enterprises depend on creating and sustaining ‘value’ of their products or services in the minds of the customers. The meaning of ‘value’ has transformed substantially over time from being just a product or function centered to more holistic concepts of brands and core beliefs that a business practice stands for.

‘Value’ has many meanings & interpretations depending on the context. Value is attributed to people, cultures, objects, events, actions, ideologies…. and so on. Common factors in assigning value as positive or negative are the triggers that one responds to based on ones worldview.

Much of mere commodity products have redefined themselves as aspirational benchmarks where the customer pays for their imagery as an enhancer of a sense of wellbeing or status. However the traditional crafts have seen a reversal of this process and in turn are being commoditized. This has had detrimental consequences for the very survival of crafts.

We need to redefine the very premise that helps understand the core nuances of value from a historical, economic, sociological and perceptual paradigms in the context of handicrafts. We also need to look at crafts and handmade products as an approach that dovetails into the emerging new customer across the globe.

The new customer, unlike a consumer is informed, ethical and compassionate about the value of his/her money in the entire business process. Fair practices, sustainability, anti-exploitation, anti-waste, recycling, cultural diversity, authorship of objects and recognition of creative cultural content are among the many characteristics that are prime ethos that drive buying decisions of this new customer.

Handicrafts enterprises and their inherent business processes need to delve into this premise of ’value’ not only as an understanding but also as a core strategy to leverage serious patronage from global markets. The insights are valid for all constituents of craft development i.e. craft practitioners, designers, development and/or funding agencies in addressing policies, strategies, schemes, business models, crafts marketing and more.

In my involvement with the development of flagship program “Craft Management & Enterprise Development Program” at the Craft Development Institute, Srinagar, Kashmir, I emphasized on this aspect of Value as a central theme. Students must be oriented to perceive opportunities in leveraging unique value dimensions that place crafts beyond a mere physicality of materials & skills- a prevailing practice of costing that includes only the materials/process cost and time investment of late.

This has been addressed through two modules namely *Value Paradigms In Crafts” and “Craft Issues”. While this inquiry into value in the context of crafts has been with me for a while, I was able to share this with the students last year as a collective exploration. The premise of value was articulated through a model (below) that is not complete by any means.

The model was visualized deliberately using terminology rooted in Sanskrit with English for students to find words that capture the same/similar meaning in the language familiar to them namely, Kashmiri. The process of discovering exact words helped immensely in connecting finer nuances of VALUE constituents as an experiential recall and hence requisite clarity.

Each constituent is briefly explained to expand the meaning of Value model.

Constituents of Value

Guna: While a characteristic is a term in English; it also pertains recognizing them as inherent qualitative aspects. Deciphering these in any craft as an object, process, expression, history, tradition, techniques, reflection of beliefs, nature of practice, material source, recycling, sustainability etc. as key ingredients. Building on these and ensuring these GUNA are integral to the process & strategies of craft development as a sensitive connection between traditional wisdom and contemporary markets.

Sanskara: Meaning essence or culture pertains to inherent dimensions of practice, which are of immense importance in the consumption society of today as an antidote. Need to strike a cord by exemplifying minimal waste, hand made, recycling, renewable energy use, natural materials and harmless production practice of crafts by virtue of a humane scale as a culture of sustainability.

Mulya/Amulya: As worth in both material terms and perceived value. Building on exclusivity, cultural identity, expression & skills, quality, authenticity, authorship, traditional lineage and customization as core multiplier of its monetary worth.

Pramana: As a concept of measure/co-relation/endorsement of craft products through benchmarking, certification and promotion to inform, educate and engage potential customer for long term patronage.

Samarthan/Jajmaani: system of patronage, protection out of value recognition as a transaction based on shared meaning between producers and users. Arth in samarthan is meaning that will need to be created for converting customers into patrons or jajmaans.

Anubhuti: Meaning experience, a critical ingredient in developing an emotional connect and long lasting mind space as a reality capsuled in an object or a craft product. Witnessing craft processes, interacting with communities, immersing in the ambience or being in awe of shear dexterity of hands combined with stories of history, traditions, culture, human spirit of expression and space/time location envelop much more than the physical realities of a craft object that travel and unfold as reminiscence, concern and relationship of a life time.

Sansarg/Arth: Interestingly, Arth can mean commerce and meaning. In a way suggesting that commerce needs to make deeper meaning to all involved. Convergence of all value constituents as a commercial transaction that truly represents the larger meaning of crafts rooted in co-creation of values beyond the simple buying and selling of objects.

The process of value building can be summed up as

Value Recognition: Guna
Value Creation: Mulya/Amulya
Value Promotion: Pramaan
Value Realization: samarthanJajmaani
Value Actualization: anubhuti/sanskara

While this model has looked at traditional crafts as a context, it can be applied to non-crafts context with equally valid insights. It is in its preliminary stages of formation and will need to be vigorously applied and evaluated over time to draw critical inferences. The program “CURATING THE COMMERCE OF CRAFTS” developed by me and being offered over 3 and1/2 months duration from January 2009 draws a lot from this approach to redefine craft business. This was also a research proposal sent for Leverhulme Fellowship program in UK last year but did not materialize.

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