Akshay Wadhwa is the Founder & CEO of a B2B export platform Bluerickshaw that connects small sellers in India to small & mid-size buyers across the world. He is a fashion designer turned entrepreneur who has featured in Vogue UK’s Autumn-Winter edition and was one of the top ten designers of the Vancouver Fashion Week 2016.
There’s no need to reiterate that handicrafts of India are not only popular within the country but they are highly famous in many parts of the world. People from other countries come to India to see the culture and they do not like to miss the handicrafts of the country.
Every region, city, and village boasts of its own handmade traditions and skills—interlaced with technical know-how and extreme perfection. The culture of India is such that tourists easily get plenty of options while checking the handicraft sections. Artisans, who are like the backbone of the non-farm rural Indian economy, number 70 lakh and come mostly from weaker sections and women, according to official figures. Other sources estimate them to be up to 20 crores.
Since March 2020, the falling economy, unemployment, reduced spending, the pandemic, and subsequent lockdown have had a devastating impact on the handicrafts sector. However, the “Vocal for Local” slogan by Prime Minister Narendra Modi had shown a ray of hope for local artists.
Vocal for local, if seen in the current context, embodies a deeper meaning as well. For many, it is about seeking pride in India’s wide spectrum of indigenous crafts. At a time when consumption patterns are driven by the seasonal cycles of fast fashion, supporting hand-made in India takes a new meaning.
When the COVID-19 crisis hit India!
When India first went into lockdown in March 2020, like every other sector, handloom and craft also faced the brunt. Since the lockdown, the production of handicrafts has stopped completely. Huge unsold inventory has piled up. There has been no sale either through exhibitions or through orders. They have no capital to reinvest.
The artisans have neither food for daily consumption nor enough savings to meet medical expenses. Due to lack of money, most of the artisans were now looking for agricultural work or to migrate again.
Call for “vocal for local” and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat”
In a bid to revive the staggering economy due to the COVID-19-led lockdown, on May 12, 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the war cry of ‘Vocal for Local,’ and pitched for ‘Made in India’ products. He further said, “India needs to be atmanirbhar (self-reliant) to fight the COVID-19 crisis.” The Prime Minister’s ‘vocal for local’ and ‘local for global’ mantra has also brought out the significance for our local brands to have a global presence.
Under ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan’ or ‘Self-reliant India campaign’, with its focus on being vocal for local and products to be made in India and their promotion, the Ministry of Textiles has launched an initiative to set up an e-commerce platform for artisans.
The Textiles Ministry has tied up with India Post to leverage 4,00,000 Common Service Centres (CSCs), which have been primarily set up to offer government e-services in areas with limited availability of internet and computers, to enable artisan go online with their products and become competitive.
Similarly, the tribal Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (TRIFED), which is a national level cooperative body under the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, also held its annual flagship event Aadi Mahotsav, displaying crafts and natural products on Tribes India Marketplace website.
The Centre ‘Atmanirbharta’ programme, the ‘vocal for local’ campaign, together with ‘Make in India’, presents a huge opportunity to the art and craft sector to further strengthen the Indian positioning in the global handicrafts space. In order to boost this, however, the demand first has to come from home. While the impact and initial shocks of COVID-19 have had an initial calamitous impact on poor rural and urban livelihoods, the opportunities are immense. Toward this, all stakeholders including the private sector must come forward.
How does B2B online marketplace strengthen the ‘Vocal for Local’ initiative?
B2B online marketplace is also strengthening the ‘Vocal for Local’ agenda by providing a reliable platform to local buyers and sellers for identifying trustworthy business partners. The ‘Vocal for Local’ initiative will help promote local businesses, especially the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) that have faced the severe burnt of the COVID-19 induced lockdown.
In this initiative to be #VocalForLocal, startups are committed to working with skilled groups and artisans, of the clusters that we work in, especially in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, and Rajasthan – hinterlands of India’s wooden crafts.
Promoting local artisans
As an entrepreneur, it is our responsibility to preserve the talent, beauty, and art that India has to offer. Businesses help rural artisans and craftsmen by providing employment opportunities, offering facilities to sell their products in newer markets, and enhancing their skills through skill development programmes.
We saw the response to a single social media post about ‘Baba ka Dhaba’ got. The video went viral and it touched many hearts and the place is witnessing long queues of customers. If a single post on social media praising a local store could get them such a lot of business, imagine how fast could our local stores grow. The power of social media is inevitable. By promoting and improving our local manufacturing and productive efficiency, we can compete with the world as well as help the world.
The coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity for the country to invest in creating an enabling ecosystem for the less privileged artisans to move them out of poverty and hunger in a win-win situation for them as well as the Indian economy. Surviving on self-sustaining business models with craftspeople often growing their own raw materials, the sector has also been the pioneer of inclusion and environment-friendly practices in a true sense. As per the 2011 Census, India’s handloom and handicrafts, ranging from simple to exquisite creations, are the workmanship of 43.32 lakh weavers and allied workers, and 68.86 lakh crafts persons respectively.