According to the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH), India’s handicraft sector could suffer a pandemic-related loss of up to Rs.10,000 crore. The lockdown has triggered order cancellations and reduced marketing opportunities, leaving artisans in a particularly challenging situation. While movements, such as #CreativeDignity, have been working to bring relief and rehabilitation to these communities, the largely decentralized sector is also in need of a rejuvenation to align with the changing times.
“One result of worldwide social distancing will be a major increase in online retail buying. However, few craftspeople have the technical and economic resources or know-how to go online. Those of us in the craft sector have to equip ourselves to help them,” explains Laila Tyabji, chairperson and founder member of NGO Dastkar.
We chatted with 10 craft-centric home decor brands and marketing platforms to understand work has been like in lockdown, how they have adapted processes during this time, and how buying from them now can help their artisan allies.
1. Abtrac Home
Abstrac Home partners with small-scale artisan units across Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Rajasthan and Chennai to create home textiles. Besides advance payments to help everyone tide over the initial months of lockdown, founder Brinda Patel planned the way ahead to suit artisan needs. “They did not want to sit lamenting about the situation; rather, were excited [about] what they could do being at home,” she says. This resulted in the handmade execution of Brinda’s design concepts with available raw materials. “This kept them engaged and they felt pride in getting paid for [it],” she elaborates. The company currently has a limited product range on offer via email. All proceeds from the same go to the artisans.
abstrac-home | Shipping across India.
Designer Kunal Shah and entrepreneur Cezar Pinto of Casa Goa fame introduced Claro to Goa earlier this year. The experiential retail store intends to give clients a taste of elegant, mindful living with a special focus on indigenous, traditional crafts and design. Its offering features sculptural objects and installations by Goan artists, hand-poured, beeswax candles from a nearby nunnery, crochet linen by local village women, Sawantwadi lacquerware, reclaimed teak furniture and lighting by its in-house design team. Shah and Pinto have been using this time in quarantine to smooth out processes, experiment with new designs and more recently, make Claro’s products accessible via Instagram.
@claro.goa | Shipping across India.
Since 1981, this not-for-profit NGO has been advocating for traditional Indian craftspeople. Dastkar offers support services and marketing platforms (bazaars and exhibitions) to crafters, which enable a direct connection with patrons. Over the past months, Dastkar has focussed on getting essentials (including masks) to almost 2,000 artisan families. “We try to help smaller rural groups without access to other assistance, and to find local support to see that help goes to the right people in equal amounts,” says Tyabji. In phase-II, the organization is extending various support services, including raw materials, product development and online marketing to crafts communities. Patrons can order select products via the recently launched #dastkargoesonline social media campaign or its official e-commerce website. It’s also accepting donations for its Artisan Support Fund.
dastkar.org | Shipping across India.
One of India’s largest lifestyle retailers, Fabindia is known for its India Modern aesthetic. Its products, ranging from apparel and home decor to beauty and food, are often made using traditional techniques and handmade processes. The brand links over 55,000 craft-based rural producers to urban markets. In April, it launched The Hope Mask initiative, aimed at protecting the livelihoods of artisans and tailors involved in the making of reusable cotton masks.
fabindia.com | Stores open in select locations; shipping across India.
5. Freedom Tree
Lifestyle label Freedom Tree’s playful, modern designs are rooted in traditional, handmade crafting techniques. Conceptualized in-house, the products are brought to life by a network of small-scale producers and master artisans, which include fabric and wicker weavers, ceramists, woodcarvers, and inlay artisans among others. Over the past two months, its designers have worked closely with creative partners and crafters to tweak their workflow in response to available raw materials, skillsets and individual community needs. After launching Seed, its Spring collection, earlier this year, Freedom Tree is now focussed on making upcycled cotton masks in its signature prints.
freedomtree.in | Stores open in select locations. Shipping across India.
6. Gunava Design
Gunava Design’s classic lines are characterized by delicate embroidered detailing. The furniture, lighting and accessories label collaborates with craftspeople from Sriperumbudur, a small town around 50km from Chennai, once known for its skilled embroiderers. “We’ve reached out to our team for any extra support [they’ve needed] financially [during the lockdown],” says designer and founder Vaishnovi Reddy. After being closed since mid-March, the studio began a phased reopening in June.
iTokri is a collaborative platform for India’s craft communities to reach potential domestic and international customers. With a network of over 500 artisan groups and individuals, the product offering encompasses everything from fashion to home decor. The brand prides itself in being the only online platform whose operations are based on stock acquisitions, which eases the producer’s inventory-holding burden. “When most of our artisans are facing a drop in sales and massive order cancellations, iTokri has adopted a zero-cancellation policy for all producers during lockdown. We continue to support artisan communities with rations and in other livelihood crisis situations,” says founder Nitin Pamnani. iTokri recently launched #maskmela, a collection of cotton masks by artisans across the country.
itokri.com | Shipping in India and internationally.
Mianzi, a Mumbai-based bamboo furniture and lighting brand, works with craftspeople in Madhya Pradesh, Assam and other parts of Northeast India. While in lockdown, the company has developed moulds and jigs that make it possible for artisans to work from home, skilfully and swiftly bringing the label’s eco-friendly, sculptural designs to life. “We provided a hike in salary to the artisans to make sure they feel relieved and motivated,” adds Shashank Gautam, founder and designer, Mianzi.
mianzi.in | Shipping to all major cities.
Founded by architects Nishita Kamdar and Veeram Shah, P.O.D is an artisan-based design studio whose creations balance form with function. The design concepts are executed by a small Rajasthani-origin, Ahmedabad- based community of woodcrafters, cane weavers and brass fabricators. “When you’re buying something that is handmade and crafted you’re not just buying a product but feeding several stomachs. A single product goes through the hands of at least five-six different artisans,” says Kamdar. While P.O.D’s new line is currently on hold, the label continues to market existing designs. “We didn’t just help our artisans but also donated to a few trusts that were helping other artisans in the community,” she says.
@pod_piecesofdesire | Shipping across India.
Delhi-based Unlike Design Co retails its lifestyle products under the towithfrom label. Via its Made Of India line, the studio has been collaborating with craft communities across the country to infuse its minimalist-contemporary designs with a distinct Indian flavour. During the Covid-19 lockdown, the company has supported its Kashmiri artisans via Whatsapp-based flash sales with all proceeds going directly to crafter accounts. “Surprisingly, and probably due to built-up resilience and familiarity with adverse local conditions, the Kashmiri artisans sound most hopeful of the future,” says designer Harpreet Padam, a partner at Unlike Design Co. “In Andhra Pradesh, we’ve only managed to aid their [artisans] own local fundraising, so that the poorest amongst them don’t run out of food.”
towithfrom.com | Shipping to all major cities, except Mumbai.