What is common between the Taj Mahal, Ajanta-Ellora Caves, popular temples of South India and Akshardham and terracotta pots, cane furniture, phulkari textiles and jute jewellery? Exquisite manifestations of India's skilled craftsmanship have carved a distinct identity for themselves to win plaudits and respect worldwide. Whether through monuments or antique souvenirs, it has helped preserve the country’s rich legacy and heritage through centuries.
All Indian states embody their own style and origins of art, building an extraordinary treasure trove of unique craftsmanship. In fact, the rich and exotic appeal of high-quality handicraft goods produced by communities and tribes across cultures ‑ be it through the bold use of colour, patterns, texture or design ‑ is widespread, spanning the remote interiors of the country. This has not only successfully attracted demand for them from the domestic market, but has also enabled this sector to carve a niche in the global market, making India the world's major exporter and supplier of handicrafts.
Being one of the most ‘hand-skilled' countries in the world, India employs approximately 34.5 million artisans for its handicrafts industry, which is pegged at Rs 46,000 crore.
The India handicrafts industry is highly fragmented. It has been striving for growth for the past few years now amidst significant challenges in the form of lack of design, innovation, and upgraded technology together with insufficient market information on export trends, opportunities and prices, scarcity of raw materials, lack of adequate finance and growing competition from mill and factory-made products. On the bright side, an escalating inflow of tourists along with lower labour costs, improved real estate, retail business and an increasing use of internet and e-commerce have gradually spelt growth for this sector. In fact, according to an ASSOCHAM study, India's handicrafts exports are likely to cross the Rs 17,000 crore mark by the end of the current fiscal year of 2015-16. It is further expected to cross Rs 24,000 crore by FY 2020-21.
Creating any handcrafted item takes double or triple the time taken to manufacture any machine-made product. As the process is slow, the design naturally evolves owing to the spirit of the artisans' creativity, making every piece unique. The finesse and sophistication of handmade creations are what distinguishes them from machine-made goods, thereby making them truly luxurious. The intricacies and delicate designs in various types of weaves and embroideries match the likes of exclusive international luxury brands like Valentino, Hermes, Oscar De La Renta, Chanel. Globally renowned brands keep sourcing luxury embroideries, Pashmina, brocade, Banarasi, silk, Jamawar, silk carpets that are manufactured in India and are a big part of our Indian heritage and handicrafts. The fact that such work can hardly be duplicated or created through regimented technical processes ensures that the value of such goods remains high and enjoys repute through the ages without undermining the effort, time, and cost spent on production by their makers.
When it comes to homegrown crafts and weaves, Indian goods are highly influenced by our rich culture, heritage, and tradition. This has influenced contemporary fashion designers to take note of such work in their search for authentic fare steeped in local history. Moreover, as India has become one of the biggest consumer markets with the demand for luxury products growing on a large scale across cities whether Tier 1 or Tier 3, various national handicrafts institutes and eminent Indian fashion designers have taken responsibility to mould the finest Indian art into their creations.
Meanwhile, as India is one of the largest users of Internet, adoption by Indian designers and the rising influence of e-commerce has brought a huge hidden and hitherto untapped opportunity for local artisans. It has changed their way of doing business and solidifying transactions by providing them a global marketplace. E-commerce platforms, especially luxury websites, are bridging the much-widened chasm between the country's artisanal clusters and the potential market, thereby providing exporters a promising scope for expansion. These handicraft artisans have started laying claim to a considerable amount of the e-commerce pie to reach out to their consumers who are characterised by an evolved taste for luxury, are aspirational and willing to spend on exquisite works of art as priceless symbols of status and sophistication. This has created a noteworthy market for luxury handcrafted goods and their availability online has only enhanced their accessibility for art connoisseurs. This is also helping craftsmen in addressing the demand for their products from international markets.
The scope for growth of luxury Indian handicrafts is extremely high on the global dais with 60 percent of India's produce being exported to the US and European countries, besides Japan and Saudi Arabia. The digital medium has not only been tremendously successful in matching this demand and supply by positioning them to achieve global recognition, it has also been promoting the unique flavours of Indian artisans in the overseas luxury market as exclusive and rare.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)