Mushtaq A Punjabi
The world is under heat of recession that has affected almost all the big economies; slightly or considerably. Our valley is no exception as most of the export products find their way to the markets in Europe or other richer countries. At this time when recession has compelled many artisans to switch over to other occupations for their survival, what is needed to defang the monster of recession is to go back to basics – replace them, repair them and start a campaign in the market for cheaper products.
Try to make your product as cheap as possible so that you can float in the market. For products at lower rates, demand is there. On the contrary, if at this juncture expensive products are thrown into the market, it is very difficult to get buyers. To put money back into the units, you must keep a watch on the cost of product. It is better to have a market survey first to assess what changes are needed to make our handicrafts easily sellable. Handicrafts will never die and will cross over the recession period, but we need to change their style, colour and most importantly, their price.
Although artisans have no power over the price of the product, they can be exposed to the market demands by arranging their participation in exhibitions. It will pave way for them to directly meet the client. There they can understand what sort of product market demands and what the real requirements are. However, artisans need a middle man or exporter who arranges the raw material and also ensures the selling of the product in markets in India and abroad. But we must admit that the artisans are the least paid people in the whole process with a chain stitch artisan earning Rs 60 to 75 after toiling the whole day. And middleman can pose problems at times. Most of them have started selling machine made embroidery shawls from China in the name of Kashmiri shawls. Here our problem is that we have not branded our product. You go to any part of world they sell Chinese shawls under the name Pashmina. Our government or people never have done anything to stop this menace.
Art exhibitions are held by government and some trade bodies in different parts of the world including US and Europe. However, the unfortunate part is that only 20 percent of the products are from Kashmir while as the rest include Amritsar shawls, Jaipur carpets and Saharanpur wood carving items – all in the name of Kashmir. They take only a fraction of Kashmir handicraft with them.
We must keep this thing in mind that Kashmir handicrafts has never been a voluminous business. Let us put it limited to cosy shops and art galleries. We try to make it a voluminous trade but that is not possible because we cannot produce it in bulk. Another problem that we face while promoting Kashmir handicrafts in international market is final finish.
At a time when capital is blocked, exporters or traders can do nothing to salvage the handicrafts industry as they do business for the sole purpose of profit. Government must interfere by either purchasing the product or helping the artisans in the hour of need. Banks also should come to their rescue and bail them out by lending loans at cheaper interest rates.
To make the product easily sellable and stop its duplication by China and other countries, we must brand our product. It can differentiate our handicrafts from other machine made items. Presently we must pay attention to other items like shawls, papier-m?ch? and wood carving items than carpets as they are expensive and cannot bear the heat of recession. Last but not the least; the artisans should be taken care of properly in terms of money. They are day-wagers and are the most exploited class of the society. Besides, they need to be educated about the requirements of market and the competition that the Kashmir product face while selling in international market. They must understand that the simple rule is: the cheaper and more refined, the better.
Mushtaq Ahmad Punjabi, is promoter of London based Bukhara Culture Imports Limited, a fashion retailing chain with 21 outlets in UK. For more details visit: www. Bukharauk.com