Address at “Design Interventions in Handlooms and Handicrafts Sector”
NIFT-Gandhinagar, 11 March 2003
Singh, Shri Arvind Agarwal, Smt Villoo Mirza, Shri Wagh and friends:
It is a
privilege to be with you today to look at the situation of handloom and
handicraft development in our state, and to try together to put design to
work for this great purpose. Other speakers have mentioned the key
importance of design for marketing success. While this is true, one of the
major problems is that these terms --- ‘design’ and ‘marketing’ ---- are
little understood and frequently misunderstood. Perhaps the same can be said
of ‘craft’ which is such a huge sector and yet commands insufficient
attention when one thinks of its enormous importance to Indian life and to
our economy. So the first challenge is to sort out the confusion in our
understanding of words we use and of the sector we want to serve.
begin by looking at the handloom and handicrafts in a national context.
Although it is said that craft provides employment second only to
agriculture in India, no one can tell us with any accuracy how many artisans
are engaged in this sector. Official estimates range from 4 to 6 million.
This is a gross underestimate. At best, it applies only to a list of crafts
under the auspices of the Development Commissioner. Other estimates range
from 36 million to 200 million. If the purpose of all our efforts is
ultimately to ensure sustainable livelihoods for people, the challenge of
identifying who we want to serve, and whose lives we want to uplift, is
clearly a first priority. How can investment be demanded and planned if we
are not clear about the scale of the task?
estimated that the buyer value of crafts is approximately Rs60,000 crores a
year, which means an output cost of Rs28,000 crores. Textiles are estimated
to comprise 50% of this figure. In the current year, it is estimated that
India will export craft products worth Rs8,000 crores, or almost $2 billion.
for crafts can be broadly divided into domestic and export markets. A recent
study suggest that households with an income above Rs4 lakhs per year
comprise our major market. It is estimated that there are about 14 million
urban households in this category, together spending about Rs3,500 crores or
Rs2,500 per year per household. These families are located in the 8 major
metros (which include Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad) and in
several other cities such as Chandigarh, Cochin and Bhubaneswar. This is the
domestic market for Gujarat crafts. It is a market that today is influenced
by vigorous competition, mass retailing of factory-made products, rapidly
changing lifestyles, as well as by new demands for quality and speed. This
market is categorized not only by changing lifestyles and taste, but also by
the collapse of certain traditional markets (such as craft purchases by
temples), by the growth of new markets (such as crafts for fashion) and by
the opportunity to tap or to revive potential markets such as craft inputs
for buildings and their interiors.
competition is tough at home, it is ruthlessly stringent in export markets.
I mentioned that this year handicrafts exports (including durries and
carpets) are estimated at Rs8,000 crores. The USA is our biggest market,
followed by Germany, UK, France and Japan. We need to understand these
markets carefully because their specific requirements constitute our
opportunity. The USA leads in all categories except two: shawls (Saudi
Arabia comes first) and zari (where UK leads). There are some 6,000
establishments participating in India’s craft export trade. Their clients
are primarily department stores, chain stores, gift shops, art outlets,
museum shops, retail units specializing in interiors and so on. Each of
these establishments has special requirements. Each may have in-house buyers
(department stores and chains most often do) while others deal through
wholesale importers, catalogues and other channels. A marketing strategy
(and therefore a design strategy) must be sensitive to how this trade
functions at all these levels and what makes competition so difficult as
well as so rewarding. Trends vary from season to season, and most of these
outlets today are working on plans for 2005! Merchandizing (or the ability
to communicate and present products effectively) is very important. It
includes such elements as labeling, packaging and promotional material.
Delivery requirements are very tight, the cycle of production and shipment
is usually limited, while payments may take time to realize. And everything
is dominated by a demand for high quality and effective quality control.
There is no mercy for mistakes.
Increasingly, these aspects of the export markets are also apparent at home,
where competition from other manufacturers in India as well as from outside
is being keenly felt. You must all be aware that only last year we had the
extraordinary experience of Chinese craft “factories” exporting “Kutchi
embroidery” made in China to Gujarat where it has been sold and exported as
genuine Kutchi craft! Such is the nature of the changing world scenario
through what is known as globalization and liberalization. If we do not keep
ahead of it, it will overtake and flatten us. What then will happen to the
millions of artisans who must be our first concern? Their future depends on
a marketing ability which they must acquire or which can be made available
to them by their partners.
us to another challenge. Most of us believe that marketing is selling. For
50 years the attitude in Indian crafts has been “This is what we make.
Please buy it ”. This is not marketing. The marketing attitude is “This is
what we know you need. Here is a quality product that responds to your need.
Please buy it.” I hope you can see the difference in these two attitudes.
Design is part of the marketing chain. If we do not understand marketing
correctly, there is no way that we can use design inputs intelligently.
Marketing is the identification of a need and the satisfaction of that need
at a profit. Most craft organizations in our country, particularly those
under government control, claim to be marketing organizations. Very few
really are. Most merely sell, and that too not very efficiently. Marketing
demands a foundation of research to provide information on what buyers want,
when, and how much they are willing to pay. This then leads on product
development, which is where design is of critical importance. Technology to
improve quality and productivity must keep ahead of the market. Therefore
linkages with specialist institutions becomes essential because marketing is
a team job, demanding many specialist inputs. Financial systems to support
the marketing cycle are critically important. Without them, design cannot
function. Sales must be respected as a specialist function which embraces
merchandizing and which extends to customer service after a sale has been
completed, and to feedback from the market so that the marketing cycle can
begin again, based on the experience of performance.
I hope I
have said enough to place design in its context. You will have several
examples of design intervention shared with you today. Please keep in mind
that design is not about art or making things pretty. Design is a
problem-solving process. If we do not understand the problem properly, no
amount of design will serve to beat competition and keep ahead. Therefore we
must accept that design interventions for the crafts of Gujarat must be
concerned with improving craft products and systems in our state from the
user’s point of view. I cannot stress this point enough. We will need
partners with specialist knowledge of marketing and technology. We can take
inspiration from the models of design intervention that have been made in
the craft sector by market leaders like Shyam Ahuja, Fabindia, Anokhee and
even by Gurjari in the days when it was an accepted leader for craft
quality. A seminar organized by the Crafts Council of India and NID in 1990
identified case examples of successful design intervention (including those
by Gurjari) and these remain relevant still.
these challenges were not enough, let me also remind you that we have yet
another critical dimension to our task. This is that we must look at
challenges and opportunities from the perspective of artisans, and the needs
of their families and their communities. We in the crafts sector spend a lot
of our time extolling India’s great craft heritage of thousands of years.
But we know little about the quality of life which traditional artisans face
in our society, their low level of earnings, their difficult socio-economic
conditions, their lack of access to technologies and to market information,
the absence of opportunities for lifting their craft and managerial skills.
If we must put sustainable livelihoods as our first priority, then we have
to start from the level of earnings needed by artisans, and the realistic
costs of their production and distribution. It is then that we can select
products and systems, prioritizing those which have marketing potential
sufficient to meet the requirements of artisans. And then we must
aggressively explore and develop markets at home and overseas which can
deliver the earnings and the quality of life that must be our basic
How far we
are from these goals, despite 50 years of achievement in craft development
and promotion, became clear at a seminar held in New Delhi in November to
celebrate these five decades of experience. Many distinguished craftspersons
attended the seminar. All of them had received high national and state
honors and were gurus of great experience and wisdom. Yet with one voice
they said that their position in society and in the economy was still so low
that they wondered how anyone could expect their children and shishyas
to carry on their traditions. They spoke of exploitation, indifference,
harassment, lack of education and health and old-age supports, as well as
the new threats of competition at home and from imported products. At the
same seminar, senior Government representatives made it clear that the role
of Government in the years ahead would be to facilitate what craft
communities, private enterprise and NGOs could do for themselves in the
craft sector. Government would no longer be the implementer nor the prime
patron. The need of the hour, according to these officials, was
self-reliance and the collective strength for bargaining that could
influence the political and economic environment. If design is to make a
difference, it must be design as part of a marketing system that can
encourage the self-reliance so essential today.
I do hope
these observations can help us to go back to the analysis made in July and
August last year toward the development of cottage industries in Gujarat for
the Tenth Five-Year Plan Period. That analysis included current strengths,
weaknesses, opportunities and threats which apply to crafts in Gujarat. If
we look at those now, can we identify a marketing strategy intelligently
geared to sustainable livelihoods for the craft communities of Gujarat? Do
we have a marketing system in place which can support design intervention,
and take it through successive marketing cycles? Can we identify from our
experience the consumer needs at home and abroad to which initial design
intervention can be directed? Answers to these questions will then suggest a
design strategy that will meet the challenge of this time. It will be design
that strengthens artisans to control their markets more effectively. It will
be design that can help repay the great debt we all owe to the craftsmen and
craftswomen of Gujarat. They have for many years been the symbols of the
best that India has to offer, not just in terms of craft products but
equally in terms of our identity and our national self-respect.