Challenges. Opportunities. Strategy
In light of this pandemic, we are attempting to engage with leading craft organisations in South Asia to work on Horizon Scanning for what this pandemic means for the Crafts sector in South Asia, from the mid term to the longer vision of how this will play out in the months to come for craft making communities, businesses, traders, designers and other relevant and interested groups.
Speak to us if you would like to contribute your ideas and experience.
Founded in 2005 in East London, city’s hub of young creativity, Nitin Goyal London – a craft based interior & textile studio has fast established its trademark with its instantly recognisable ‘signature look’ of visually and texturally tactile fabrics using hand crafted detailing such as intricate smocking, pleating and stitching along with an interesting mix of timeless modern prints and fine embroidery for the luxury interior textiles market, catering for both commercial and residential interiors. Quality is key and therefore every piece is handcrafted from start to finish making it even more unique.
Nitin Goyal, a post graduate from NTU and an award winning British designer has experience of working in the Fashion, Textiles & Craft industry for over 18 years and constantly brings together the cultural influences from his childhood and travels around the world and combine them with his strong craft aesthetic to create modern innovative designs that are functional, new yet timeless. “Travel, art, craft, music and nature” are his muses.
Nitin brings with him a wealth of creative, business, management & marketing skills along with extensive branding, sales, media & routes-to-market experience. He has a deep understanding of the design & craft sector & international markets, and its place & value in the commercial industry.
At Nitin Goyal London, we work mainly with South Asian countries & therefore understand the regional & geographical impact on the craft very well within the South Asian countries & communities.
Covid – 19 & its Impact:
Covid pandemic has had a very adverse impact on creative industries, for example in UK, it is projected there will be a combined loss of £74billion in turnover overall. Therefore the pandemic would have far reaching negative impact on the craft people and industry along with other creative areas. The immediate impact is the huge work & job loss, predicted to be over 400,000 job losses in UK alone and this will have a lasting effect on the supply chains all the way to south & far east world.
This combined with lowest consumer confidence will adversely impact craft sector. A major factor is the cancellation of all the craft fairs and shows including London Craft Week, Maison & Objet, Top Drawer besides others and without these shows the level of opportunities & direct engagement for craft artisans has considerably reduced.
Less engagement leads to less awareness, understanding & buying of the craft work.
These shows act as primary source of craft work promotion, marketing & selling.
Retail sector closure has also had a very adverse impact on the craft products & its sales and as digitisation has not yet happened fully in this sector in an organised manner, there has been a huge decline in craft sales & revenue.
The crafts people have not been able to connect with markets as well as raw materials suppliers, they have found themselves stuck in their homes, often isolated & therefore they have not been able to make/ create new work in the absence of procurement of raw materials. This combined with a sharp decline in sales has put this sector in an ‘alarming’ situation.
At grassroot level, artisans need to be made aware of the importance of finding new access routes & applicable ways of digitisation and then prioritisation needs to take place to pivot & employ new ways to teach the artisans the new methods & processes of procurement, engagement and market connects.
Local governments, private & public organisations would need to invest in new channels with the help of sector specialists and look at these pivot methods. New digital platforms & marketplaces for sourcing & selling would need to be built & made accessible to futureproof the craft industry.
Sustainable crafts would become mainstream and take the winning spot. We would need to look at the craft supply chains, its visibility and ensure the products are ethically sourced & are sustainable. Experts would need to look at pivot methods and work closely with the artisans to make their craft practices sustainable without losing the authenticity & provenance of the craft itself.
It remains a big challenge as to how the craft industry can find new ways of engaging with its audience during and in the post pandemic times. The pandemic has brought to the surface this very lack of structured access routes for this sector and how in absence of mainstream digitisation, the sector remains isolated & fragmented.
Kaarvan Crafts Foundation was established in 2004 and is incorporated as a Not-for-profit company registered under Section 32 and licensed under Section 42 of Companies Ordinance, 1984 (Companies Act, 2017) in Pakistan. Kaarvan provides life skills to Pakistani Rural Women in order to build their confidence to participate in local decision-making and carving connections with relevant urban markets. With integrated holistic developmental approach that caters to both human dignity and individual integrity — Kaarvan is working towards implementing the Sustainable Development Goal 5 & 8 and creating a collective movement for a culture of peace from a gender perspective enhancing relational capacities through skills development – skills pertaining not only to profession but also communication, critical thinking and conflict transformation.
Working in a space of experimentation around complex issues — Kaarvan is crafting an emergent practice of social innovation that shape-shifts in subversive yet expansive ways. It is devoted to examining the ways in which gender roles and all forms of human inequality are embedded in culture and society. Works to reduce gender difference by providing life skills opportunities to marginalized women living in low-income communities across Pakistan. We are of the firm believe that the representation and participation of women will pave the path for a culture of peace in Pakistan.
Till date Kaarvan has mobilized, trained and capacitated more than 25,000 women in over 1,000 of villages of 22 different districts across Pakistan. Integrating and working within the multidimensional network of stakeholders and connecting institutional silos. With Kaarvan’s Theory of Change revolving around education, enablement and empowerment of women’s economic capacities — Kaarvan places women at the heart of development.
In these unprecedented times of COVID-19 — economy, workflow and life as we know it — asked us to create new rituals, new modes of engagement and to strengthen our humanity by sharing our resources, our time and our energy to support one another from afar.
We received very desperate calls from the women artisans from the marginalized communities in rural areas. Due to Corona Pandemic they have been hard hit economically — many of them being the sole bread earners for their families. As these most vulnerable women artisans reside in far-flung villages, sending rations to them especially in wake of the Corona virus pandemic is a challenge in itself.
For Kaarvan, it is our Top Priority to keep a flow of money transfer to them so that they can buy basic commodities for themselves — as no family should be left behind.
With health precautions and COVID 19 lockdown all of our field activities for women economic empowerment programs and protection of cultural heritage initiatives have to be halted. This pause on projects has had a trickledown effect on the grassroots community as the chain of workflow has been disrupted.
Obstruction of field activities led to innovation – Kaarvan is relentlessly shapeshifting itself to adapt and meet recent COVID-19 challenges and needs of grassroots community. Kaarvan has created remote gathering, field work and to build rural micro-entrepreneurs’ capacity for digital marketing and selling. Kaarvan has developed a three-prong strategy: 1) Initiated Kaarvan Corona Relief Fund sending money to our women artisans from vulnerable households in far flung villages in Center & South Punjab. Sending each family PKR 4,400 per month via digital transfers to as many families as possible – by the grace of God, we managed to reach out with cash support to over 2000 most venerable families in our database of artisans 2) Remote participatory Campaign #BeApartTogether made by and with rural micro-entrepreneurs as they vocalize and showcase how they are bravely facing the challenges of COVID-19 and remotely supporting one another. 3) Remote “Digital Readiness” – constitutes the training & capacity building on the necessary ‘Survival Kit’ for any remote trainings to take place. “Digital Enablement” – this follows the digital readiness & constitutes a range of trainings given to group of micro-entrepreneurs who connect remotely from their mobile phones on platform best suited for the training. “Digital Market Linkages” – Kaarvan Crafts Foundation’s Uraan —Online Exhibition is compilation of all the digital enablement training put to action from design aesthesis, product photography, digital portfolio to communication. It is also medium of promotion, continuation and protection of traditional Pakistani crafts and the craft woman from far flung villages – to be LIVE on Facebook sharing their stories of resilience & Crafts with the world – making customer connections with national and international customers. The idea is to make visible the grassroot point of contact that is the artisan making the craft. Online Exhibition is means of bringing the artisans to the forefront and spread awareness of local crafts through tangible product experience.
As a conscious effort we also engaged young volunteers from leading design school of the country to be part of the online exhibition process. The idea is to sensitize the youth to roots of Pakistani heritage through remote interaction with rural artisans via digital platforms. Having not only the rural artisans preserving the craft but also the youth join hands in this initiative with their social media flair and modern trends.
Prior to the recent undertaking of remote digital enablement, it is Kaarvan’s strategic partnership with The British Asian Trust and Samsung Pakistan that took the latest technology to the grassroots level in a simple and easy way. Through the development of Aanganpk.com, a technology platform created with, by and for rural artisans — digital courtyard where female artisans can upload their crafts —connect with national and international customers through showcasing their products and interacting with them through Android Mobile Devices.
The national institute of folk and traditional heritage has a wide range of interest related to culture and heritage. It deals with all sort of arts, artisan, and master crafts and intents to focus on developing cultural, and creative industries throughout the country. Currently the institute has two museums, however it recognizes the need to have a country wide setup of museums and cultural complexes, which will help in collaborating with multiple actors already working in the cultural sector. With a national setup, it aims to develop a network of collaboration, assimilating research, documentation, and information which further helps other actors and activists in the sector.
The institute has the vision to stop the culture and heritage from being just a superficial display for the entertainment of the tourist, and bring it into everyday life of the masses, specially the youth. It will work with different artisans and professionals to divert the focus of the masses from the global trends back to their own culture. By engaging the common man, the institute is keen to create a living heritage which can be experienced by everyone.
Unfortunately, the craft sector was already struggling, and with the pandemic the conditions only worsen. Many of the problems we are seeing after the pandemic has existed for a long time, the pandemic managed to amplify them and bring them to the surface. One of the biggest problems in the sector is the lack of value given to the crafts. This problem can be seen even in the local language, where art and craft share a common word – ‘fun’. So, the debate remains about the distinction between arts and craft. The recognition of artist, and arts is generally very low, with very few buyers and promoters. With the pandemic, even the few admirers of the sector have stopped buying and promoting arts. The money has stopped coming all together, and with that many people have stopped practicing their art. Less skills are being transferred to the next generation because the youth are opting for something more financially rewarding, making many arts/craft endangered.
To reduce the effects of the pandemic and save the craft sector it is very important to educate the youth about our heritage and culture. Instead of valuing foreign art, the people should be able to value their own traditions and culture. This is possible by making them experience different aspects of their culture and having them accept it.
When I was a kid it was common practice to get your shoe-shined by someone else. One day my maamu showed me how to water polish my own shoe. Learning and experiencing the art of water polishing made me value it and ever since I have been shining my own shoe.
We need to utilize summer holidays and engage the children in traditional arts, crafts. They should learn different techniques and skills which will help them appreciate the artist who make traditional arts and crafts. Along with learning skills and technique, we need to teach them about their identity, what is their heritage, where do their traditions come from, and who they really are. Both type of teaching needs to go parallel, one teaching them the value of things and the other linking their identity to those values. Through these methods you can start bringing back traditional arts and crafts back into our life, increasing the demand for the sector.
Zahra is Cultural entrepreneur, a fashion designer and founder of NAMYR, an ethical fashion enterprise working with and promoting the textile cultural heritage of the Kalasha community in Pakistan.
Khan works with Craft women in Kalash Valley where her organisation Namyr encourages the recognition of the cultural intellectual property rights of the Kalasha craftspeople by enabling them to develop and sell their organic handmade products in the global market. She explains how her work is affected by the COVID19 lockdown,
“Kalash lacks internet facility so being there in personwith the craftswomen is important but due to the lockdown that is not possible – therefore I have not been able to visit or work with the craftswomen on the lines of sustainable product development which is the main objective of NAMYR. For example, I could call them up and place an order for “SHUSHAT”, which they will easily make by buying thread from the market and make a colourful string. They are experts, they are very good in colour combination, they are very good with their aesthetics. So that is not challenge but the challenge is with project like NAMYR, that we are not in favour of synthetic material, the challenge is to work with them and revive their skills which is a time-taking process.”
Khan points out that main challenges she faces is restricted access to and from the Kalash Valley, which has disrupted her supply chain as well as her direct connection and time with the crafts women.
“due to COVID19, I cannot commute, I cannot go there, there is no internet. I cannot show the designs to artisans, what to make and in which quantity. Let’s say, if I send them something through the TCS, it would be another challenge, because I think it takes more than two weeks to receive a parcel from Karachi. And tracing the parcel is another challenge, how it would reach my city and how it could be taken from one shop to other. Each and every process is taking a lot of time. These are the major challenges, I cannot go there simply, I cannot look after work, and the work has just stopped.”
She further explains the challenge to craftswomen during this pandemic,
“I think it will affect their life so deeply because they cannot wait for their online businesses to purchase online technologies, since all things are going online nowadays. Even if they have the skillset, they do not have the access to the market to sell it. And the crafts fair or crafts bazaars that they would usually sell in, those too have been cancelled due to the pandemic”
Khan suggests that to respond to these challenges, it is important that craftswomen in Kalash are trained in online marketing and online business strategies so they are able to sustain their business.
I source hand crafted and other jewellery from craftsmen and vendors and sell them to the clientele I have built, as well exhibit in crafts fairs as Daachi, or Haryali, or funfairs in different residential developments. My jewellery is mostly handmade and I work with kundan karigars and also get the gold-plated stuff done like bangles rings sets etc. With the pandemic, has come a global recession, lockdowns, and social distancing. Not only do people not have the extra money to spend on jewellery, but a lot of people also no longer have events to wear that jewellery to either, due to social distancing measures. They are also hesitant to purchase and introduce unnecessary items in their home since everyone is on high alert with sanitation. There is lower demand for crafts and jewellery for my business, but also in general with the crafts sector. It’s not just the craftsmen making the actual jewellery that are affected, but every step of the supply chain is impacted, from the craftsmen, to the suppliers, to the people who do the packaging and labelling, the people who make the boxes, the drivers who transport the raw material and the finished product. So, there are definitely widespread losses for everyone involved in the industry as well as spill over effects.
At least in the short term, everyone involved in the industry will face financial losses— some more than others, a smaller scale craftsman working with a small amount of capital will face more hardship than a more established one that has more money to invest. At least for the foreseeable future, exhibitions and bazaars won’t be held. Some smaller scale craftsmen may even go out of business, which is a sad reality, but this pandemic has brought with it unprecedented times. But those of us with more privilege, and less financial issues to worry about could also see this time as an opportunistic time of reflection and creativity, craftsmen may come up with more ideas and be able to strengthen their karigari (crafts skills) and build on their skills.
Gwendolyn Kulick taught design from 2004 until 2015 at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore / Pakistan. Since 2016 she teaches design theory at the German University Cairo, first at the Berlin Campus and since 2018 at the Cairo Campus in Egypt.
In her PhD research she looks at Pakistan’s craft sector from a systems perspective, analysing structures, processes and mind-sets that drive it but also pose barriers for sustainable and ethical practices. Between 2011 and 2017 in a case study she looked at projects of different character and scale, from large internationally funded aid schemes to small private initiatives, and in an action research project conducted a small collaboration with home-based women embroiderers near her campus. Fruitful stakeholder conversations were encouraged through focus groups and numerous interviews and field visits. Gwendolyn’s research engaged with a number of stakeholders in Pakistan’s craft sector, including craft producers who were mainly home-based women workers doing embroidery, patchwork and stitching; NGO project managers; community coordinators; academics in the field of art and design, including both faculty and students; social entrepreneurs; designers who include craft elements in their collections; and private people who drive their own small initiatives and craft businesses.
She explains how in her view the pandemic will affect the crafts sector in Pakistan,
“In general, I think that the negative impact might be lesser than I expected on the first thought. In a way in Pakistan people always face infrastructural challenges and barriers, also often in an ad hoc manner. They also have very efficient capabilities to work around them, improvise whenever needed and come up with clever, context relevant, solutions.
Otherwise I believe that:
– One challenge could be that craft producers and / or their family members fall ill and cannot work, or worse, die. Craft producers usually live in poorer and more marginalized circumstances and might generally be hit harder.
– The productivity will not be reduced tremendously because craftspeople often work from home anyways. Their challenge might be to receive material and deliver completed work.
– Designers and design students and faculty cannot easily travel to the communities of craft producers, especially not to those located remotely, and hence the craft producers cannot travel to the designers as well. This makes collaborative product development more difficult.
– Similarly NGO led projects might face travel restrictions for trainings.
– It will strengthen the ability to communicate digitally, which people even in remote areas are already doing. But using digital communication as an essential tool might increase the acceptance of doing it even more in the future as well.
– In times when everyone, including potential customers, focus more on the home environment, orders for e.g. home textiles might increase. “
Gwendolyn suggests some ways of overcoming the challenges posed by the pandemic on the crafts sector in Pakistan,
“The challenges of the delivery of raw material and completed products can be overcome by a well-coordinated transport system, in which the few involved people apply social distancing and hygiene standards. Moreover, the communication challenges between craft producers in remote areas and supportive collaborators could be addressed through using more digital communication. Obviously, it cannot make up for feeling certain materials but if people have already worked together before they know what they communicate about. This is only problematic for initiating new collaborations, where personal interaction might be important.”