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Handicraft sector is the second biggest employer in India after the agriculture sector. As the COVID-19 pandemic forces widespread shutdowns across the globe, sellers and buyers are facing adverse effects of the pandemic. The crafts and handloom sector — the underlying steel of Indian fashion is struggling too, with the disease’s slow decay. The situations are so grim for the artisans who think the hunger, if not the virus, will get to them.
Small, mainly self-employed, artisans are dependent on seasonal retail sales and direct orders. Owing to the slowdown, they have met a slip in their revenue streams. This blow comes successively after demonetization, then GST. The result is that India’s handicraft exports are expected to fall about 40 per cent to about $2.1 billion in FY21 from $3.53 billion in the previous fiscal as demand from key markets in the US, the UK and EU has significantly gone down and the patterns of consumption will also shift to the necessities. In addition to this, many trade fairs have been cancelled too.
Sure, the sector has been badly hit but the most interesting thing about the handicrafts sector is the inherent qualities that makes it resilient. Firstly, their resilience lies in their memory. They’re able to recall old habits, call upon all of their common, collective knowledge to deal with a situation. Secondly, they can fight the pandemic as their homes and workplaces have always been in the same space. This gives them the ability to maintain inventories at all times. Building on the underlying strengths, the sector can revive. In fact, the need for sustainability will also become a key driver for the sector to emerge as a winner.
After the effects of COVID-19 start to die down, the way we market craft also has to change considerably. It’s going to make people think twice about flocking to fairs in the cities that may become hotspots for the virus. Going digital will be the new normal for the artisans. For handicrafts to appeal to the buyers online, they need to look good, and be presented with skill and style. The charm of a craft object is the process with which it is made. The internet provides the opportunity to the maker tell the product’s story.
All over India, women embroiderers are making beautiful versions of masks, while other artisans have turned to make PPE outfits and gloves. They are utilizing their skills to lend their support. It is our turn to reciprocate this in our choices. With the mission of going local, this is an opportunity to make ‘Make in India’ really happen. We should also be tempted back to ‘Buy Local, Buy Indian’ with the international brands becoming less accessible due to COVID. So, let’s start this today!