Impact of Covid-19 on the Handicraft Industry

As the Covid-19 continues to cause widespread shutdown across the globe, the crafts and handloom sector, the very core of the Indian fashion industry is feeling its adverse effects. The handicraft industry is struggling with the disease’s slow but inevitable decimation of business. In the last three to four years, economic upheavals like demonetization, GST, and the global slowdown has significantly impacted the craft communities. Now, this unexpected pandemic has added more vulnerability to the lives of Indian artisans and craftsmen.

Small, mainly self-employed artisans who are dependent on seasonal retail sales and direct orders have received a worrisome blow. Among the most impacted are the craftsmen who are outside the safety net of secure jobs, insurance, provident funds, or pensions. The craft community faces a plethora of issues ranging from loss of orders, tarnishing sale channels, and cancellation of crafts and fair exhibitions. Their investment in stock, transportation, and travel will hardly be getting compensated.

We must look at both short and long term perspectives to understand the impact of Covid-19 on the handicraft industry. The short term effect of the pandemic could mean the temporary closing of craft bazaars, the season for which is almost over. During the months of April-September, the karigars stay put in their homes working on winter orders that have already come from retailers and wholesalers. The art workers spend the summer months in designing and planning for upcoming exhibitions and preparing for Diwali and festive season collection. Hopefully, now the artisan can use this time to refresh and improve their product catalog, reorganize inventory of raw materials, and pile up stocks for future sales. We should remain optimistic that artisans can also use this period to acquire new skills and consolidate their businesses.

In the long term, though we feel that human interaction at bazaars and exhibitions is the best way to appreciate the texture and contour of craft products, the role of digital channels like e-commerce could be seen as the most viable alternative for marketing and selling the products. One result of worldwide self-isolation will be a significant increase in online buying instead of hands-on retail. Since only a few artisans would have the technical and economic resources, we should equip ourselves to help them with the knowhow to establish their business online.

Another way of structuring work on a long term basis could be to engage craft communities in design and craft projects from corporates, hospitality bodies, architects, and interior designers since the earnings through these sources is far more and should give the craftsmen a secure and better livelihood. Civil societies, NGOs, and the government should come forward together to resolve an issue arising during this pandemic. This time is convenient to reimagine different production and market models and use social media and technology to complement the enterprise and resilience of these communities. In this age of fast internet penetration, availability of digital payment platforms, and social media like Whatsapp and e-mail could serve as a medium to exchange ideas, designs, and sharing of production updates between the craftsmen and the sellers. It would be tremendously useful if one could turn this crisis to advantage and concentrate more on building through training and forward planning.