Two women joined hands and created a digital platform that helps artisans get offshore buyers directly. In a few months of its operation, 192 artisans have agreed to work as more than 100 orders have been delivered, reports Mariah Shah
Mindful of the deficiency of a common platform that could have otherwise showcased the Kashmir handicraft on a worldwide stage, Aiman, a young MBA in Finance and HR initiated the Universal Craft Market (UCM). It is platform linking artisans with buyers. The products owners register with the UCM website and their products are showcased.
In 2019, Aiman discussed the idea with an IT company in Japan and it helped her to start working on the idea. She started collaborating with the IT company.
“In our region, handicraft has been the worst hit. In whatever tough times we went through, it was an artisan who suffered the most. I could sense the lack of development in arts and crafts in Jammu and Kashmir that led to their fall,” regretted Aiman. “That is when I thought of doing something for them.”
The company aims at generating employment and getting some renovation to the art and craft. Currently, 192 artisans are linked with them and their handmade products are uploaded on the website and are initialized for business.
Aiman and her team meet the artisans. These meetings offer them a firsthand experience of the situation they live in and the art they produce.
“In the first place, we had to hire a team; comprising the local young men and women who know the local culture and sensibilities. Our team has operations men, IT people, graphic designers, and a marketing team,” affirms Shafaq Qadri. “We reach the artisans and explain to them our ideas. Those who are interested get registered.”
Shafaq Qadri is the group’s coordinator and marketing head. She supervises the projects and manages them in the absence of Aiman who remains busy handling the business abroad.
“We make artisans understand the technology and how it can be leveraged for their benefit,” Qadri said. “It is challenging to make them understand how the technology will help them.”
Before one-on-one sessions, the group organized around 20 sessions where they invited artisans from different backgrounds and explained their idea to them. In these gatherings, the participants exchanged ideas. This spadework helped the group have a better response in individual meetings with the artisans.
The group managers insist they are a bridge between the artisans and the outer world. They said the pandemic did not impact the artisans alone, it delayed the launch of online marketing of the group in Japan, Canada, and Dubai. With the Covid19 fears almost diminished now, the group has fast-forwarded its activities to address its growth deficit.
The company is trying to establish its units in these countries. They have tied up with the banks in these countries which include Japan Post Bank, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, RAK Bank, Dubai, and Mashreq Bank. The Universal Craft Market has tied up with Emirates post, PayPal, and Stripe Payment Gateway for the movement of handicrafts and payments.
So far, the company said they have delivered almost a hundred orders. These products belonged to around 20 artisans.
“We take a meagre share out of the profit generated after the orders are placed, finalized, and delivered. We need to invest in our setup so that it would be possible for us to cater to the needs of our company,” Shafaq remarked. “This is how the UCM works. The artisans take their money and we take a small amount as our share to keep the company afloat.”
Art does not recognise boundaries. It even does not require a language. It explains itself.
“In Kashmir, we have a lot of art to display. Earlier the naive copper work was in fashion, but now it comes with a tinge of the black motif. The innovation is widely admired,” Shafaq said. “Now the papier machie jewellery is adding to the grace of the craft. The entirely novel concepts in the shawl embroidery enthral the buyers and the fresh concept of crochet designs appeals to the shoppers.”
Women for Women
The company is established by a woman and supervised by a woman. In Kashmir, womenfolk is associated with almost all the handicrafts. “Utilizing their innate sense of art, women can join our team. We don’t specifically confine the recruitment to the women but keep it open to all genders. However, women may secure their place in the company by utilizing whatever skills they have. Empowering women is a gratification to the company,” briefed Shafaq.
The company aims at preserving the quality of the products it takes. “We cannot compromise with the purity of the products. Before joining the Universal Craft Market, an artisan has to assure us of the purity of the product. We promote handmade art and craft items,” Qadri said. “No machine-made items are accepted by us because we are committed to our clients that they will get the authentic handicraft.”