Effect of Covid-19: Handloom & Handicrafts Sector Going Digital

Birth of a ‘new consumer’
Marketers will be facing a new entity in the form of a much-evolved customer post Covid-19 lockdown and it is certainly going to be a challenging one.

  1. The post lockdown consumer in many economies will be a financially scarred one. Depending on which part of the world the consumer is, he/she would have lost around 5 months of gainful employment. Most probably, the consumer would be more concerned about limping back to his/her full employability status.
  2. Not to forget that many of the working population would have lost their jobs already or adjusted with major pay cuts. In short, marketers have to be ready for ‘low purchasing power’ in the economy.
  3. International mobility will be severely limited, as national borders are closed and even if they are to open post lockdown, there would be several health-related apprehensions, restrictions and checks. Expect retail business to be curtailed. To begin with Domestic markets will prevail in the short run at least.
  4. Covid-19 has transformed many industries from offline to online, so the new consumer is going to be more digitally inclined.
  5. Being caged home for more than 3 months or so, it is natural that all of us are yearning to get back to our normal lives. Freedom from lockdown seems to be the most yearned desire now. Textile demonstration of local arts and crafts to the consumers can be one new form of engagement.

Handloom & Handicrafts Sector Status

There could be as many as one crore job cuts in the textiles sector, which has been severely hit by the ongoing lockdown, if there is no support and revival package from the government, according to apparel industry body Clothing Manufacturers Association of India. With around 80 per cent of the garment industry mostly micro, small and medium enterprises, CMAI, which has around 3,700 members employing over 7 lakh people, said most of its members do not have the kind of reserves to see them through 3-6 months.

Handicrafts business constitutes concept selling rather than mere product selling. Design and development of products constitute the soul and substance for the sector. These products focus on the ultimate consumer. The ingenuity of the designer as well as the craftsman will enable traditional crafts to be viable in a contemporary market. Demand for handicrafts is highly income-elastic. Handicrafts have an expanding market in developed countries. New trends and designs, new integral ways to feel the pulse of the market need to be determined and disseminated. Marketing touches everyone’s life. Marketing involves a large number of activities, including marketing research, product development, distribution, pricing, advertising, and personal selling, sales promotion, packaging and branding. Marketing combines several activities designed to sense, serve and satisfy consumer needs while meeting the goals of the organization. Handicraft units, which are mostly run by individuals with sole proprietary form of organization, can’t afford to have separate and well-organized marketing systems. The artisan-cum-proprietor of the unit looks after all the functions with the help of family members. Most of the time is spent in the production and acquiring raw materials. Usually, the artisans have little knowledge about the market information relating to his products.

A ray of hope for the artisans

Largely self-employed craftsmen are suffering a brunt of the pandemic as they are dependent on seasonal retail sales and direct orders. As their activity is informal, the small artisans and producer groups lack access to financial assistance and cannot rely on financial institutions to tide them through the crisis.

A lack of credit from raw material suppliers aggravates the challenges, it said, adding that although the Indian government is supplying free food rations most of the artisans, especially daily wagers are finding it extremely difficult to feed their families and cater to other emergencies.

Artisans are skilled manual workers engaged in craft production, which range from home decor items to clothes, jewellery, furniture, tools, etc., to earn a livelihood. While there has been a growing demand for handicraft products both in domestic and international markets, most of the artisans live in rural areas and are unable to cash in on the opportunity. Mass-produced and machine-made products have taken centre stage, leaving little room for skilled artisans and their handmade products.

However, with the Make in India initiative, things are taking a good shape and empowering Indian artisans, weavers, and craftsmen alike. Many Indian brands have also taken a step forward to utilize the creative minds, and providing them with employment opportunities.

UTHHAN is the first initiative in India where profit from artifact sales goes directly to artisan families without any middlemen. The intuitive display of products in UTHHAN mobile and web applications help artisan products to be showcased to a global crowd without any charges. The project is trying to open various retail outlets exclusively allotted under the banner with the help of Government bodies.

An e-commerce giant like Amazon India working with artisans and weavers faces multifold challenges. Unlike fast fashion, handlooms are not always standardized, while the final product takes months to appear. Getting talented artisans on board is also a challenge given their limited internet access, lack of digital know-how, and delivery hiccups.

Rather than soliciting donations, ANTARAN, an initiative by Tata Trusts, urges everyone to purchase hand woven products at wholesale prices directly from the artisans they work with. In order to mitigate the hardships caused by this downturn, beautiful handlooms and weaves can be purchased and the payment can be made directly to the artisan through the portal with deliveries made at the earliest once things return to normal

Students of textile and design thus can think of an alternative career in the burgeoning textile industry and provide their expertise and experience by adopting digital technologies to promote local crafts.  It is time to change the adversity of Covid-19 into an opportunity now!

Author:
Kakoli Biswas, Associate Professor, Textile & Knit Design, Unitedworld Institute of Design (UID)

Disclaimer: The opinions / views expressed in this article are solely of the author in his / her individual capacity. They do not purport to reflect the opinions and/or views of the College and/or University or its members.