Oindrila Mukherjee comes from the field of crafts business management to support and help retain the glory of dying Indian crafts. She is currently working in the field of Live Commerce and collaboratively working with craft based social enterprises for fulfilling her vision: to raise awareness about the art works of India. The platform of live commerce helps various artisans and craftsmen of India express their artwork on a national and global scale. This helps them promote their product while highlighting the beauty of Indian craftsmanship. Read on to find out as Oindrila talks about her role in this sector of cultural entrepreneurship and how it affects the country’s traditional and cultural art forms.
During my days studying at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), we were required to be a part of a cluster development initiative. During this, I was specifically given a cluster of bone and horns craft – which is a severely dying craft in India – to create a business model for. This was my first experience of working with a cultural business.
My current work primarily entails analyzing customer’s needs and collaborating with the right artisans on the back end, to get the most desirable outcome. We have to keep the market trends in mind, ensure proper product quality and product uniformity in all orders. I also volunteer at many organizations and NGOs where I help artisans market their products and understand the importance of customer satisfaction. This involves mentoring them on how to put their skill sets to use and make the perfect product for the customer market.
Live commerce provides a real-life experience to the customer, especially in terms of the choices offered to them. It gives the buyer an authentic real-life shopping experience while understanding the nature and type of craft better. For instance, a weaver of authentic Chanderi sarees can easily showcase his craft through the live commerce website which is now accessible to someone in Chennai. The artisans explain the various aspects of their artwork, showcase multiple designs and present the buyer with multiple options to purchase products. We are trying to ensure that various crafts are given equal exposure and credibility.
Talking to the artisans is not an easy task. Firstly there is the language barrier. An artist from the Southern part of India might not converse in Hindi and an artist from the North might not speak languages of other states. This makes it really difficult to communicate with them. Another roadblock is their sensitivity towards the craft they practice. Most artists are from an older generation who believe in preserving their art form. They strongly believe in preserving the traditional heritage that their family possesses with respect to the art form. This makes them reluctant to change and adapt to the current market trends. They are also lacking the required technical skills to use, say, Whatsapp and other forms of social media which would help them interact with customers and others and also grow. I think by creating the right kind of connection and making them feel comfortable, it becomes a little easier to interact with the artisans.
Post COVID however, the scenario has been fairly better. There are a lot of younger generations who have taken up the role and are more active on social media. Artists that are open to putting themselves on the platform of Live commerce are happy exploring new opportunities to sell online and reach out to more people. This sector of craftsmen are more flexible and are ready to take inspiration from newer designs and ideas to incorporate into their own products. They are now using Whatsapp to sell their products and interact with customers via Instagram and Facebook all by themselves. There has definitely been a massive change in the selling and marketing of the art forms on an online platform. There is a huge buzz with quite a few dying crafts lately. People are appreciating crafts like block printing and incorporating it onto their clothes. This is also encouraging artisans to learn about consumer demand and cater to the needs accordingly.
One of the biggest challenges in the artisanal sector is that it is highly unorganized. Now that artisans are aware of the concept of selling their products online, there are a lot of initiatives like Amazon Karigar and the cultural products section on Etsy that prove to be great platforms for such art forms. However, these are often constricted to a small portion of the craft form. Bamboo craft, for instance, varies from state to state. The one in Kerala is completely different from that in Maharashtra. But if one were to search for products based on this craft online, they would be redirected to just one kind of products like the bamboo baskets.
Live commerce ensures every kind of craft is made visible to the customers. For example, different variations of crafts like Bawan Bhag, a shawl with traditional motifs and embroidery that is gifted to the daughter by the family at her wedding, in the Phulkari craft Is made visible with its story told to customers. Motifs and cultural products like these being less known need appropriate channels for representation on a national scale.
Another aspect that I deal with while working in sourcing is to educate the artisanal sector. We explain the process of producing the product, help them find the right raw material to save on costs, and identify the correct price point for the products. Since there is an extensive amount of labor involved in each craft, tackling the issue of differentiation is crucial. If a certain order needs to be made in bigger batches, we must ensure that the quality of each piece is similar and up to the mark.
I truly believe that the art sector in India is evolving. There has been a major increase in its recognition throughout the country with people choosing to purchase products made using these craft styles. Brands like Tjori and Okhai preserve the work of artisans across the country by employing them to produce authentic crafts with a contemporary twist. This needs to be extended to an international level. All of the craftsmen are extremely talented and entrepreneurs working in this field must take note of this. Enterprises must identify unnoticed forms of crafts and highlight them in their businesses to take the artistic sector of India to the next level.
Image credits: iStock, Pinterest, Wikipedia