In 2006, the All India Artisans and Craftworker’s Welfare Association (AIACA), based in New Delhi, and the international NGO, Aid to Artisans (ATA), began a three year public-private partnership to implement the Artisan Enterprise Development Alliance Program (AEDAP) in India. Most handicrafts created by Indian artisans are made with the intention of being sold commercially, yet many remain unable to reach the market. The aim of AEDAP was therefore to support Indian artisan enterprises to become more competitive in the market. The objective of the program was to leverage skills and expertise; to bring human, material and financial resources to bear on addressing various challenges throughout the supply chain related to Indian craft production and marketing.
|The Design Intervention
The term ‘design intervention’ has been widely adopted to describe the process of linking designers to craft enterprises. The concept is that the designer will bring a new approach, or a different way of seeing artisanal skills and expertise, and share their design capabilities and understanding of global market demands. The designer does not impose but rather ‘unlocks’ the potential of the existing skill by tweaking it to make it more saleable to consumers and in so doing may transform a craft that is struggling to find a market. Here, the designer operates at the intersection between the commercial economy and artisan, serving as the bridge between maker and market.
AIACA and ATA selected and paired a designer with a craft group. The designer then spent time on-site for a period of up to two weeks with the craft enterprise. The designer was required to assess the situation, then work to find design solutions to the obstacles the craft groups were encountering in reaching the market. In the first two years, the designer was a US-based consultant who worked on site with the craft enterprise. In the third and final year a local Indian designer was located on site with the AEDAP partner. The designer was provided with mentoring support from designer-mentors in the US, who provided inputs and advice on colour and product range. A total of 17 groups participated in the AEDAP design intervention.
|The Craft Enterprise
DR is based in the Sawai Madhopor district of South-East Rajasthan; they are located adjacent to one of the world’s most famous natural tiger reserves. Many local people were removed from their traditional lands in the creation of the Tiger Reserve and re-settled in areas just outside the Park. As a result, they lost their access to wood, water and farming lands. In order to support these villagers to rebuild their social and economic life, Ranthambore Foundation was created to work with the displaced population to work on rebuilding the displaced communities’ social and economic foundations through various income generation programs.In 1989 the Delhi- based craft NGO, Dastkar, took charge of the income generation programme for the village craft people. The target group were not professional artisans. Instead, craft skills were being practised in an unstructured, undeveloped way, mainly as a means of reusing and recycling waste materials such as rags, or newspapers to create items of daily use.Dastkar began its work training local people, building on these craft skills to create livelihoods. The enterprise now works with approximately four hundred women artisans. They have constructed a craft centre, which also doubles as a retail space and functions as an informal gathering place for the community, where the women can gossip, sing, and work together. DR provides life insurance, health insurance, a provident fund, and a micro-credit system for the women artisans and their families.
The Aid to Artisan (ATA) designer, who was paired with DR, Jane Griffith, had experience as an international development consultant and high-end retail executive. The combination of business development expertise and practical field experience in developing countries meant that the designer had an understanding of value chain management in rural-based craft organizations. The designer had, in addition to, designing light manufactured and handmade goods in the home, fashion, and gift industries, also worked in a marketing role with experience in implementing targeted marketing campaigns on behalf of artisans. This combination of experience meant Griffith was well positioned to develop market driven products that could help DR expand its market.
DR has a sales and retail centre from which to sell its products, with ample space to display all their products. This retail store is a significant advantage for DR, as it is adjacent to the Tiger Reserve which is a thriving tourism hub. DR is situated in an ideal location near the major hotels and at least two tour buses visit the group every week. A range of hotels, from government run budget accommodation to exclusive five star resorts, offered sales opportunities for DR via their retail outlets. Whilst the AEDAP had been structured to support Indian artisans to connect to global markets, Griffith’s analysis of the tourism industry identified that the most viable business proposition was investing in local sales. At the time, the US market was glutted and mature; in contrast, the domestic Indian market was strong, and rapidly growing. A focus on the immediate market also meant that DR reduced its dependence on sales from external factors in the export market, such as volatile, seasonal fashion trends. They also reduced costs related to transportation. Therefore, the strategy was to create products that could tap into the sales potential of the tourism industry.
Based on consultation with DR, along with an assessment by AIACA and ATA, the designer was given the following objectives:
DR’s main product line was hand block printed products. Griffith saw this market as saturated and flooded, with both conventional and contemporary products. To give the products a competitive edge, new applications and new ways of interpreting the block prints needed to be developed. However, there were limitations; for instance, whilst DR craft workers were adept in sewing, finishing, stitching, and the construction of simple products, due to some restrictions in terms of access to raw materials and pattern making skills, most products had to remain unstructured. A solution to the limitations was to introduce colour as a main focal point that could give DR a competitive advantage in the market. Therefore, Griffith introduced vibrant colours in blue, pink, orange, and green; these made the products ‘pop’ and became an important element in the collection.
|Griffith also developed more comprehensive product lines that could be put together into collections according to colour, style, and print. Griffith and DR also recognized the importance of including the iconic Tiger motif on products. The Tiger was DR’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP); it is a motif developed from a children’s after school workshop that Ms Laila Tyabji, the Dastkar Chairperson, had initiated and facilitated. The motif was turned into a block print, and served as a popular product for tourists, who wanted to purchase a souvenir of their trip to the tiger reserve. Dastkar Delhi was instrumental in the development, and use of a range of animal block prints, that have been the key to the success of Dastkar Ranthambore’s past, and current, collections. The Tiger, along with the other animal block prints, continues to identify DR products, and makes them immediately recognizable, which has been central to creating the DR brand.
The key design inputs provided by the AEDAP designer were as follows;
DR received its first export orders for the AEDAP line. Whilst their domestic sales account comprise the bulk of their turnover, their export figures have continued to grow. They also recorded a growth in their domestic sales, with the AEDAP collection selling strongly in their retail store. Due to the success of the first design intervention, DR invited Griffith to design another collection for them, which also generated sales.
The increase in export activity was also, due to AIACA and ATA’s active promotion of DR’s products through strategic marketing activities which included the Craftmark Catalogue, and booth space at International Gift Fairs, including the New York International Gift Fair, and the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH) India Handicrafts and Gift Fair. The Trade Fairs have continued to generate a diverse range of buyer leads for Craftmark, leading to sales and long term linkages with buyers, some with large import networks and distribution channels. Trade fairs have generated buyer leads, sampling orders, and commercial orders. AEDAP groups also benefited from ATA’s established presence in the market as the go-to source for buyers of international handicrafts and artisanal products. As a source for ethically produced, handmade products, ATA’s long term engagement with the US market has opened up many opportunities for AEDAP groups.
|The Right Mix
An important element in DR’s success was the ongoing support it has received from Dastkar, a society for crafts and craftspeople, based in New Delhi that aims at improving the economic status of craftspeople, thereby promoting the survival of traditional crafts. It was founded in 1981 by six women, who had worked in the craft and development sector including Laila Tyabji, who is the current Chairperson. Similarly, the marketing support from AIACA, particularly through their Craftmark- Handmade in India, market access program provided export sale channels, and opportunities. In particular, the DR Manager, Ujwala Jhoda has been a key element in their success; her level of professional management meant that there was a fast turn-around time for sampling and sourcing new materials, so that design suggestions were put into action. Jhoda has operated DR as a business enterprise, ensuring high quality finishing of products, on time delivery, and consistent pricing; this has helped to build DR’s reputation amongst domestic and international buyers and led to repeat and new orders. According to Griffith, a good manager is essential for the success and growth of an enterprise and she believes that even with exceptional products, poor and incompetent management will mean that an enterprise can fail. In addition to their Manager, DR has embodied a culture of innovation, which has made it receptive to embracing change when it is needed. For instance, they were amongst the first hand block printing groups to install a water management system where waste water is collected and purified for reuse. From a marketing perspective, DR had a very strong story of women’s empowerment, poverty alleviation and community development to share with consumers and buyers, and this added value to the strong product line.
|Postscript: Design as business development strategy
The implementation of strategic design improved sales for DR, and generated income for its craft workers. Due to the impact the AEDAP design intervention had on DR’s sales, the organization now continues to work with designers, introduced, and set up by Dastkar, and including the Pearl Academy. The AEDAP case study demonstrates how appropriate design interventions can bridge the gap between traditional artisan skills and mainstream markets, and make a craft enterprise more competitive.