Art has its way of being a part of our lives. It has taken centuries for our evolution and it started with the Handicraft Industry. We made everything from useful items around us through our art and started using it in our daily lives. We made leather, paper, clothes, and even the decorations we now revel at in museums. One of the examples is the world’s oldest leather tannery which is still alive is at the center of Morroco’s ancient city of Fez, where leather is made with the help of manual machinery which involves hard work and also poses certain risks to the health of the workers. And yet, these businesses slowly strive, not ready to give up.
When we think about owning a luxury, we think about handmade products which are famous for their quality, purity, and authenticity. We look for things that are rarely owned by people and remind us of a legacy. These are the things that dreams are made of and yet the producers of these have been suffering for generations to continue resiliently in their work.
The degeneration of their legacy
Handmade products face significant competition from factory-made goods, for many obvious reasons such as the amount of time in which they get made, the large number of goods produced, and their price. People started to drift from the delicacy of handmade products to the elasticity of factory-made products. Covid also played a very important role in this degeneration, with some businesses reporting it was because of the reduction in the number of tourists as a result of the lockdown. Some said that it was because of the inflation that their products lost sales.
Some natural factors also play a major role in making and subsequent selling of these products. For example, the famous zisha teapots are made from a raw material extracted from a 350-million-year-old Zisha ore which is a non-renewable source of energy and hence is slowly disappearing. Their value is also increasing because of the same reason.
One of the major factors which lead to the decline in the popularity of handmade products was their price. These products are usually very expensive and cannot be used a daily. But their price also has a reason behind it. The amount of time that it takes for them to get the products made is almost double or even triple of what it takes in factories, which is because they give the products a nuanced study. For example, Boqin Tang, a Senior Technician and a Zisha Tea-pot maker, told it takes her 8-10 hours to make a single tea-pot although she’s been in the work for 25 years after passing several exams.
These artisans do not get the value of their hard work in most cases, like the case of the sacred Aranmula Kannadi mirrors which got its name from the district that it was made in, in Karnataka. These mirrors are considered to be the source of good luck. The workers here have a 10 hour workday, and all the work is done by hand, they also refuse to give their products to any factory-based industry because they consider their art sacred. Suddhammal, a very famous mirror maker, says that it was her father’s dying wish for someone to carry on his legacy so she took up the job and has been working day and night to make a successful business. She has faced devastating floods in Kerala followed by the pandemic, which made them lose almost half of their customers. She is now struggling to even keep a workforce, and alongside her brother is the only one who works for their products at full strength because most of the market is filled with their mirrors.
Another problem that the handmade industry faces is the lack of successors. Most heirs choose to move to big cities and join MNCs, leaving their parents to fend for themselves. They find the ratio between the struggles and the gratitude is too uneven to work for. Therefore, there are many art forms that are continuously going extinct as the generation changes. An example of this problem can be seen in the 4500-year-old craft of Dhokrain the town of Kondagaon of Chhatisgarh continued by Rajendra, who had learned this craft when he was 10.t takes at least a week to make these statues and the entire work is done by hands. They are sacred figured like Nandi and are considered very prestigious. Now, he fears that there will be no successors for this business because most of the people have moved to other places to get corporate jobs that pay a little higher than what they earn here.
These problems that the owners of small businesses go through make it tough for them to continue a renowned legacy of vibrant artistic history, and if they continue to face this, the world will be left with grey machines.
Many consumer goods market segments were hard-hit by the pandemic, but the overall long-term growth outlook for craft-making and handmade is very positive. A recent report suggests, with more than $500 billion in annual revenue last year, the global craft-making and handmade sector is set to grow by 20% per year reaching $1 trillion by 2024.
The markets for these goods have started to gain recognition with the growing awareness among the people, which includes awareness regarding the health hazards of factory-made goods, the aesthetic of it all, and the yearning for authenticity. The aesthetes of today gain their content and satisfaction from old-fashioned vintage goods, because the basis of every aesthetic lies in a part of the history. Aesthetes go searching in Colaba in Mumbai for vintage cameras even when the casual shopper would justwindow shop because thrifting cameras is a little expensive.
Retail buyers who source handmade goods still largely do so from assembly-line factories, and the sector more broadly is dominated by a distributed workforce of women, youth, and rural populations. Craft-making and handmade industry is already the second-largest employer globally (after agriculture), but the sector has been chronically under-served by a lack of investment, digitization, access to business finance, and global markets.
Development in this sector can only drive century-long arts to survive and will give the world another chance to see their hard work and appreciate it, another chance for the world to live the art the artists create.