by Jawahar Singh
The Indian handloom industry has a rich and long history that began thousands of years ago. From weaving during the Harappa civilization to spinning materials in Vedic times, the sector is built on an ancient form of craftspersonship. Each region of the Indian subcontinent has its own, unique contribution to this tapestry. Despite this diversity, many Indians are not aware of the myriad hues and forms that the industry has to offer.
In the global business scene, our handloom and woven products are a key differentiator for India. The largest in the world, with a market share of ~90%, the industry employs close to 10 million artisans in the country, and is considered the second-largest income generating activity, only after agriculture. As per recent estimates, around 4.5 to 5.5 million rural / semi-rural families in India are engaged in weaving by hand.
With the advent of digital business transformations and the government’s Digital India campaign, it is important to explore how adopting it could be useful for the Indian Weavers. Here are some ways in which it is set to revolutionise the industry:
Single Window Platform
There are over 25 important weaving clusters located all over India, with thousands of villages actively engaged in handloom weaving. Given the fragmented nature of the producers and producing centres, a single window platform that can showcase and sell the products would help these them reach out to customers and markets across India as well as worldwide.
Better Packaging, Higher Price Realisation
Weaving a fine handloom saree or pieces of cloth that can be tailored into kurtas, salwars, and lehengas, is a time-consuming process. Depending on the intricacy and complexity of design, a handloom saree may take anywhere from four days to weeks to weave. Also, in most cases, the weaver is dependent on a Master Weaver or Weaving Society to provide him/her with the working capital for the raw material like yarn, dyes, and even designs. This makes a handloom saree or kurta much more expensive to produce. Therefore, packaging and showcasing the merchandise attractively is essential in order to up-sell and market these authentic handloom products.
With the advantage of beautiful digital pictures taken from various angles that emphasise the intricate handiwork on the saree or kurta, it becomes easier to highlight the exquisite details which go into the crafting of Indian handlooms.
Worldwide Market Access
The market for beautiful Indian handloom products is spread across the length and breadth of India—metros, mini-metros, tier-1 and tier-2 towns. With growing awareness about well-made apparel and access to online marketplaces, Indian women find it much easier to search and shop exclusive products and sought-after brands. This is true for markets in the international diaspora as well, where the buyers are willing to pay the price for authentic, well-crafted products.
It is about time that the Indian weaving and handloom community took advantage of this opportunity to showcase their skill and wares to the rest of the globe.
Scale & Sustainability
While handloom products have been well-received and appreciated by a select group of relatively affluent customers who have the trained eye to appreciate their beauty, thanks to their family or social circles, there is a dire need to scale-up the sales volumes of handloom by expanding the customer base and increasing the acceptance of handloom products.
The internet provides a platform that makes it possible to reach all segments of customers. For customers, a well-functioning website with friendly, non-judgmental service offers the opportunity to browse, interact and buy the product of their choice. This can happen in the comfort of their homes or offices irrespective of their affluence or social status.
The growth of digital platform, particularly online marketplace has activated several avenues at once for Indian weavers. In the present day, the growing tribe of young independent designers and entrepreneurship who are actively collaborating with artisans and weavers to transform the aesthetic of traditional crafts are pioneering their appeal to global consumers. In the coming times, Indian weavers are likely to benefit considerably, even as they have historically been underserved by financial institutions.
Exciting times are ahead as these digital initiatives help boost the lives of millions of artisans in the country!
Jawahar Singh is the co-founder of Avishya.com, a go-to shopping portal for authentic handwoven sarees, apparel & jewellery inspired by India.
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