Covid made craftspeople go digital: Iti Tyagi

Iti Tyagi, the founder of Craft Village, a Delhi-based social organisation that trains and promotes craftsmen and iconic craft heritage, has been helping artisans to directly supply craft items to businesses around the world. She also organises the annual India Craft Week. This year’s event is significant as the pandemic has wiped out the livelihoods of artisans and they have great hopes the event will help them earn some money, Tyagi tells Varuni Khosla in an interview. Edited excerpts:How has the pandemic affected craftspeople?Crafts have been a major part of the travel and tourism industry. Artisans usually earn through events and activities in private exhibits or at public places like local haats, melas and bazaars. All these were wiped out due to the pandemic. The real value of craft products lies in their physical appearance, unlike branded products that have some perceptual trust. When a customer meets artisans, a trust is built that they belong to the original community that practices that craft and they are making authentic products. This was absent. While some did try selling online, most people still prefer to buy products directly from artisans after having met them, knowing their techniques and stories or contexts. The entire business came to a halt during the lockdown. How many artisans will be part of this year’s event?The India Craft Week’s third chapter has been planned with more than 100 artisans which is by far our largest delegation of artisans. In 2018, 30 craftspeople participated, which increased to 50 in 2019. Craftspeople are joining us from all over India. There will also be workshops, symposiums and exhibits of masters’ works, among others. The event is about kick-starting the process of livelihood again for those practising the crafts.Does an event like this help craftspeople generate substantial income?It helps in generating income that is sufficient enough for them to work for six months to a year, with direct sales and business orders.In 2018, they reported that they collectively did a direct sale of Rs 2.7 million and got orders worth Rs 2.2 million. In 2019, their direct sales were Rs 6.4 million and they got orders worth Rs 4.5 million. Pre-pandemic, the YoY growth was over 100%.We take data from artisans and brands at the end of the term, spot sales and future orders put together. So these figures are for both business-to-business clients as well as direct selling to customers. Brands that deal with the craft sectors also get major orders from Indian and overseas clients. In 2018, it was Rs 8.42-81.71 million. These were the indicative sales and orders figures shared by the participants that year. All this income generation helps in employment generation. But this year, we are focused on reviving the sector. Seeing the pandemic, we have only invited some brands, including Aadyam Handwoven, Craft Beton, designer Rahul Mishra, Manish Saksena Sarees, RARE India, Haute Monde, Aashima Mehrotra, SOIN and Save The Loom. They will all present like in a gallery and not like a trade show, to reconnect with buyers.Are there some special artisans participating this year?Tejsibhai Dhanabhai from Kutch. He specialises in Kharad, a rare art form that weaves mats and carpets using fine hair from goats wool and then dyes it in vegetable colours. His is the last family doing this. The rare craft form that is almost on the verge of extinction was brought into the limelight in 2018.Are there similar success stories from other parts of India?Due to a decrease in demand and shrinking winter periods, the art of making pashmina shawls is becoming endangered. Majid Mir has worked towards innovating a lost technique. He looked at alternative uses of pashmina weaving, like making it usable for garments, home linen and furniture as well. Majid has got orders not just from India, but also from China and Japan in 2019. This has increased work orders and employment in regions near Srinagar, Baramulla, Anantnag and Pulwama.What is special about this year’s craft presenters?A list of new crafts has been added from across India — like papier mâchĂ© by Fayaz Ahmad Jan and Zahid Hussain from Srinagar and meenakari by Inder Singh Kudrat and Manjeet Kaur from Jaipur. We also have brass engravings by Dilshad Hussain and Rehaan Ali from Moradabad. There are sandalwood carvings by Kamlesh Jangid and Vinod Kumar Jangid from Jaipur, among others.Do craftspeople pay to be part of this event?None of the craftspeople are charged for the event. Rather, the ICW supports them for everything — from travel to stay to meals. We also don’t take commissions from craftspeople when they directly sell at the event. In the post-pandemic world, are the craftspeople doing some things different?They have started to reach out to various agencies, organisations and companies through digital means using social media, WhatsApp and email databases which were earlier not considered of much use. They have started to narrate their product stories through live sessions on social media. Some have also enrolled with leading ecommerce platforms to set up online shops. They have developed e-catalogues. A few of them even developed even their own websites.Many of these communities are seeing more activity digitally, but the irony is still that as they are mostly based in rural areas, connectivity becomes a huge challenge.
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