New Delhi: Handloom textiles and crafts hold a special place in India's cultural heritage; weaving being a source of livelihood for millions of families. Nowhere in the world can so many diverse weaving techniques be found together in one country.
The crisis caused by COVID-19 has resulted in a sudden disruption of businesses across the globe and the Indian economy is not immune to this pandemic. Players across the spectrum have felt the effect of the resultant downturn. The handloom sector has, too, been severely affected as with all sectors in the economy with their traditional and contemporary markets for artisans being totally closed.
Prime hurdles that COVID-19 has caused
The sector has experienced sudden stalling of orders as retailers themselves are closed due to the worldwide lockdown and no signs of immediate recovery as the crisis unfolds.
Cash flow has stopped, with buyers unable to make payments and no sales happening at all.
Buyers are not in a position to place new orders - in the craft sector, orders are planned much in advance as usual lead time required to complete a production cycle is 2 to 3 months.
Retail events through which artisans get cash sales may not happen for next few months.
Market of the summer season when cotton handlooms sell most will be entirely lost by the time things get back to normal. This not only will create a liquidity crunch, but also severely impact their ability to invest in yarns for creating products for festive seasons (August to November) and winter, spring (October and to February) which are the other 2 major selling seasons for handloom textiles.
Indian handlooms have been picking up in the 'slow fashion' market internationally, but with this uncertainty, no overseas orders will be forthcoming. Customer priorities may change with tightened budgets resulting abrupt interruption to artisanal livelihoods.
Responding to the grim situation
Small artisans and producer groups do not have the financial cushioning to hold through such a crisis nor would they get credit supplies from raw material suppliers.
Being part of an informal economy, artisans are also not able to access credit from banks and financial institutions.
While the government may provide free ration to some extent, the majority of the artisans who earn on a daily basis working for bigger weavers or traders will find it extremely difficult to feed their families and take care of any medical exigencies.
"Responding to the grim circumstances caused by the outbreak of COVID-19 in India, the Antaran initiative (An Initiative of Tata Trusts) has devised a user-friendly website to help artisans liquidate their stock on hand to take care of the immediate needs. Exquisite products from the Antaran led community initiatives across four states & six clusters-- Assam (Kamrup and Nalbari), Nagaland (Dimapur), Odisha (Gopalpur and Maniabandha) and Andhra Pradesh (Venkatgiri) are being offered by the Artisan Entrepreneurs at lower/wholesale prices. Customers are able to pay online immediately to the artisans, while the artisans pack the products for delivery as soon as lockdown is lifted,' says Sharda Gautam, Head (Crafts), Tata Trusts.
This would help bring in the much-needed cash flow for artisans entrepreneurs to support themselves and their associate artisans. A wide range of textiles as below are on offer on the site named as Antaran Artisan Connect as below:
» Assam: Kamrup - Cotton & Eri Silk - Sarees, Stoles, Dupattas & Fabric
» Nagaland: Dimapur & Phek - Cotton loin loom weaves - Cushion covers, Table runners & Mats
» Andhra Pradesh: Venkatgiri- Fine cotton & silk weaves - Dupattas & Sarees
» Odisha: Sarees, dupattas and stoles in Fine cotton & silk weft Ikat from Maniabandha and in Tussar Silk from Gopalpur-Jajpur.
How to help artisans tide over the crisis?
The wide segment of artisans of clusters have consensus in attributing their demand to a continued support from buyers and designers by placing advance orders and buying out their existing inventory of finished product rather than request for financial assistance.
This translates to a better margin in terms of cost efficiency for the buyers and faster cash generation for the weavers with stockpiles of finished materials. The artisans want to present a positive picture and the beauty of their crafts and bond with customers offering them value in exchange for their support. Antaran associated artisans are addressing the downturn due to COVID-19 by utilizing their time to improve their product catalogues, reorganise inventory and developing the online presence of their micro-enterprises, rounds up Gautam.