Artisan Made Goods | An Interview with Craftmark Photo

Artisan Made Goods | An Interview with Craftmark

The “artisan made goods” movement is starting to pick up some momentum! While most have heard of the term and want to support these artisans, very little information is known about the industry as a whole. We wanted to tackle this void head on and felt the best place to start was with an organization that helps handicraft artisans of all sizes.

Meet Craftmark & Rujutaa Joshi

Craftmark, was established in 2006 and serves as a certification for genuine Indian handcrafted goods. They have teamed up with more than 150 craft enterprises around the world, with an outreach to more than 50,000 artisans across 23 states in India. They have developed workshops, tools and services that help build, grow and sustain an artisan led business. They train and support artisans in design innovation, business skill development, digital platforms, access to social schemes/finance and direct market access. The Craftmark symbol serves as support to the artisans, by providing a level of assurance to global brands, retailers and consumers that any good bought with a Craftmark symbol is a genuine hand crafted good. This increases the artisans trustworthiness and access to the global market.

We had the pleasure to interview Rujutaa Joshi, the Marketing Specialist at AIACA, the parent company of Craftmark. We discussed broad topics around the term artisan made goods such as: the hurdles of doing business as a small artisan group and the potential for eco and ethical design to have an impact on the process, especially if conscious brands play an active role. We also discussed ideas about how brands and consumers can be better educated about the space and the communities that foster the craft. The interview is a bit long but we just couldn't leave anything out!

Women stitching garment.

Quick Background

Before we begin, a little background about the artisan made goods market.

According to Craftmark, over 23 million artisans work in the craft sector in India, the second largest industry behind agriculture.

WFTO reports, hand crafted goods are the most accessible source of income for women and their families.

As stated in, “To Die For” by Lucy Siegle, 60 percent of the clothing industry is produced by artisans, rather than factory production.

And now to the interview!

Part 1 | The Craft

Let's jump right in. In regards to artisan made goods, what hurdles do artisans encounter?

The traditional crafts/artisan community in India, who are mostly rural, belong to an unorganized home based sector, that lacks organized work, skill upgradation, innovation in design, awareness and understanding of contemporary markets or various market segments, problems of smooth and uninterrupted access to raw materials, lack of access to capital, lack of exposure to design, market, organization building, legal compliance, etc…

Can you dig a little deeper into the problems with raw materials?

For most craft clusters, raw materials are sourced from external markets, as the demand for the products is often higher than what the local markets can provide. However, few crafts (especially natural fibre crafts) are still very dependent on the local ecosystem for the procurement of raw materials, which in turn provides livelihood to several allied workers at each stage of preparation.

Men making block prints.

How do markets value artisan made goods?

Traditional crafts in India are integrally linked to lifestyles of communities and are mostly linked to their culture, religion or customs, and thus there is still a large domestic market for artisan made goods. A large number of Indian designers and brands are also consciously collaborating with artisans to create refreshing contemporary designs that appeal to the urban market.

Internationally, we see that there is an increasing presence of crafts in the mainstream markets which is opening up new opportunities for rural craftspeople. However, the scale and growth demanded by it are not always matched by corresponding capacities among the artisan enterprises.

Markets are also filled with fake products or market players who present beautiful products to the consumers but are not necessarily ethical. These issues need to be addressed with greater awareness and value creation for artisans and the crafts of India.

As labor moves away from hand crafted goods, and people move into metropolitan cities, how does this affect the worker, their family and the communities?

All artisan communities in rural areas work as an eco-system. For example, in weaving communities there will be allied workers who will be yarn suppliers or dyers and others who work with supply tools and equipment for the loom. Once the weavers leave the community, it affects the allied workers directly in terms of their livelihood. Also, the craft skills, if not practiced at home, does not get passed on to the next generation, hence might languish.

And for those who travel to metropolitan cities?

The skills which are unique to the artisans get lost due to migration to metro cities. In cities these artisans work as labour in construction work or as rickshaw pullers. Apart from that, they stay in slums and unhygienic conditions that affect their health and well-being. It also puts pressure on cities in terms of infrastructure, etc...

Two men preparing a loom.
Part 2 | Brands & The Communities 

What should brands be aware of when working with small artisan groups?

The local handicrafts that various brands may choose to work with are highly specialized, local and have a unique skill set specific to that geography or crafts community.

In reality though, the artisans are the primary skill and knowledge bearers of the craft. Various market players and designers often exploit the producers to maximize their own profits. In the process it damages the continuity of excellence in traditional craft. Brands need to understand the importance of ethical business by supporting their artisan groups and bringing dignity to their work, so that the craft and the artisan both get their due recognition and fair price.

Sustaining them (artisans) through economic and social upliftment is critical to sustaining the crafts skills and the artisans, which we believe are essential for maintaining an ethical brand value.

Women looking over a garment.
Part 3: Eco and Ethical

From your understanding of Craftmark artisans, do they support or practice eco and ethical principles?

Craftmark stands for authentic handmade products, made in India, under ethical working conditions, with fair prices paid to the artisan. Thus, all Craftmark certified organisations/artisans do practice ethical principles. Many craft enterprises also continue to exist with minimal energy, most of which remains non fossil. India has a rich tradition of 'green economy', with the USP - of being local, indigenous, culturally rooted, socially and economically enabling for the communities who have held these knowledge systems for centuries.

Can you give us some examples?

There are conscious artisan entrepreneurs who do take up eco and ethical manufacturing practices such as azo free dyeing, effluent treatment solutions, payment of minimum wages to artisan producers, taking care of their social welfare, even profit sharing in a few cases.

Some examples of such artisan entrepreneurs are Dayalal Kudecha of Forline, a master artisan from Bhuj who has managed to create a market for his naturally dyed hand woven fabrics and Tapas Jana a master artisan who specializes in natural fiber mats woven on small hand looms.

Some social enterprises like Dwaraka Plus, an enterprise that works with hand painted Kalamkari artisans in rural Andhra Pradesh, Kadam Haat, an enterprise that works with natural fiber baskets and accessories, and Avani, an enterprise that works with naturally dyed handwoven woolen scarves, have successfully been able to create ethical manufacturing practices at the ground level.

What problems do small artisan groups face when discussing eco and ethical practices?

It becomes difficult for small artisans to support eco and ethical manufacturing practices at scale because of lack of exposure to its economic value, knowledge, information and capacity to do so. They also lack the financial capacity to afford a certification...

When business capacities and opportunities are provided in an organized manner by a social enterprise, artisans come forward and often make a choice to become entrepreneurs running ethical businesses.

A man preparing a thread machine.
Part 4 | The Consumer

How can consumers be better educated about the space?

We feel that the consumers can be better educated only through more organized and innovative awareness campaigns on the crafts producers, the uniqueness of their crafts process, authenticity, branding and promotion of the actual producers, celebrating their lives and traditional crafts.

How does the artisans culture play an active role in the story?

Traditional crafts in India are integrally linked to lifestyles of communities and are mostly liked to their culture, religion or customs. It is essential to uphold and celebrate artisan stories in context of historical and cultural significance of the crafts as well as the artisans’ livelihoods. We need to bring in the face and voice of the artisans through various branding materials, social media campaigns, articles/ blogs, etc... so that the real value is created for the consumers.

A man prapring a unique style hand weaving spinner.
Part 5 | Craftmark & The Future of Craft

Who are you supporting by purchasing from members of Craftmark?

Craftmark essentially certifies organizations and artisans, for authentic Indian handicrafts that are made ethically, where artisans are paid fair wages, there is no child labour, and the products are made in decent working conditions. When purchasing from members of Craftmark, the consumer is making a choice to support an organization or artisans that has made a conscious effort to step away from duplicity, and unethical practices. It creates hope and value for the artisan to keep the craft alive, apart from the direct income they receive from the sale of the product.

Will artisan made goods be around in 20 years?

Yes! The crafts sector is continuously evolving and adapting to newer markets and products. There are many examples of artisan entrepreneurs who have evolved in terms of designs and technique to suit current market requirement and thus are able to still preserve the technique as well as provide employment to artisans from their own villages.

Editors Notes

We would like to thank Rujutaa, Craftmark and AIACA team for their time! It was a pleasure to speak with them about the artisan made goods space, we hope to continue to collaborate in the future!

And as always, explore something different.

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