HANDMADE IN INDIA: THE UGLY DUCKLING
Updated: Jun 1
We have read the famous fairy tale of Hans Christian Andersen'Ugly duckling'. In the story, swan in the company of ducklings is seen as an ugly duckling. One day when it finds a company of beautiful swans, it realises its true identity. Then everyone else around acknowledges its beauty. The Handmade sector is facing an identity crisis like that of the swan in the tale. In the market, mass-produced imitation products are often sold as handmade products. Handmade products in the company of imitation products are ugly ducklings. However, this was not always the case.
Handloom fabrics have survived over a century of onslaught from the power-loom sector in India. Power-loom units started operating out of Ichalkaranji for the first time in as early as 1904. By 1920 there were 0.12 Mn Power-looms which grew to 0.2 Mn in 1940 registering an increase of 69%. Despite the rapid growth in power looms (Mill sector), During the same period, handlooms grew from 2.02 Mn to 2.20 Mn, registering an increase of 8%. It would be worthwhile to understand how handlooms survived over the last century.
The skill level of masters of weaving whose families have been weaving for several centuries was one of the reasons for the survival of handlooms. The weaves across each of the many cultures and subcultures across India have their uniqueness. Many of them cannot be replicated in the power-looms even today. Coupled with these traits of weaves the consumers during the last century primarily consumed local products, and they could distinguish the quality of handmade products.
As generations changed, urbanisation increased, the consumption of handmade and local products reduced and also the ability to distinguish authentic products. Today under the guise of brands, some sellers promote imitation products as handmade products as they are cheaper, quick and easy to procure. This decade has seen a rapid decline in the number of looms in many traditional clusters. In some of the clusters, the looms have reduced by as much as 50 per cent.
Today the sector sustains on the last generation weavers barring North-East states of India. Across the value chain of manufacturing to retail, mass-manufactured imitation products are replacing handmade fabrics and apparel. Handloom products are forced to compete with imitation products. To survive, the weaver has to settle for lesser wages. Focus often is on productivity. Thus the weaver is in a vicious circle of increasing productivity which would at times compromise quality and in turn leading to stagnant or lower wages. The struggling sector approaches the future with nervousness about survival,
As long as Handloom products are showcased in the company of imitation products, they will remain ugly ducklings. So there is an urgent need to create the market for authentic handmade products. Some of the government and industry bodies have certification/marks work in this direction. However, these are mostly audit based systems. Some of the sellers misuse the tags and certifications, thus not credible enough for the customers.
With many technological options available now, it is time we move into product-level real-time credible authentication methods. A time to create the gold standard of authentication to provide a new identity for products which are Handmade in India. The brand 'Handmade in India' can be the most trusted and respected brand in India and across the world. This sector being the second-largest employment generator in India after agriculture, a credible authentication system ushers a large scale equitable and sustainable rural economy in India.
Now is the time to make the ugly duckling realise its innate beauty, find the real company and soar higher !!!
Cover image credits: Weddingsonline.com, images.saatchiart.com