On the occasion of XVI National Convention on Skill Development and Entrepreneurship organized by Fair Trade Forum – India, we caught up with one of the keynote speakers, Dr Gayathri Vasudevan, CEO, LabourNet Services India Pvt Ltd to know more about skills in handlooms, textiles and handicrafts. Let’s read on to understand how skill development and entrepreneurship training can boost the industry that contributes significantly to India’s GDP and has an immense untapped potential for exports.
This is a rather unique sector because the actual skill gaps are more in terms of marketing and selling the products than learning the craft. And, most of the industry operates through co-operatives and micro enterprises that need guidance and handholding to scale up and sustain their business. Hence, the need of the hour is to equip the weavers and the craftspersons with top 3 skills that make them tech-savvy entrepreneurs who can blend tradition and fashion with scalable business models.
The five Ps of marketing – Product, Price, Place, Promotion and People – should form the core of any skilling program for this sector. The handloom and handicraft industry is based in rural and semi-urban areas with little access to the markets. Since skills in these sectors are mostly picked up traditionally and by learning from the family members, there’s a lack of exposure for the weavers and artisans find and access the right markets. They need to go where the buyers are. This will mean:
- Creating the right market linkages at both domestic and international levels
- Positioning the products carefully by understanding the customers’ needs
- Packaging and branding the products using professional techniques
Digital and mobile skills
In today’s world of e-commerce, m-commerce and computer aided designs it is inevitable for the handloom weavers and handicraft artisans to embrace digital technologies. Direct selling through exhibitions, shops and malls limits the geographic reach of the products and scope for growing the business. The craftspersons should be given systematic training in using computers, mobile phones and handheld devices to align their production, promotion and sales processes. For example, if the pictures of their products are not of good quality and standard size on an online shopping site, they will not be able to attract the customers. They need to:
- Learn new production techniques irrespective of traditional weaving methods or power looms
- Introduce new designs to complement the traditional patterns
- Use social media channels for customer acquisition education and engagement
Customer service skills
Knowing your customers is the key to learn and understand the trends, choices and tastes that are ever evolving! So, customer service is much broader than communication skills and there should be ways to build long-term engagement. For instance, how do we educate the customers about the genuine handloom product? Or how does one accommodate the western influences by tweaking the design of a dupatta into a stole? How does one enter into the ready-to-wear segment by going beyond weaving sarees and yardage? Questions such as these should form the basis for skilling in this sector along with a focus on parameters for successful online sales:
- Adherence to quality and fulfilling promises like discounts/offers
- Appreciation for customer loyalty for word-of mouth publicity
- Seamless integration logistics for delivery and after sales services
There are many common elements between the handloom and handicraft sectors that should be addressed for the industry to sustain and survive. Both the industries have to find ways to adapt modern technologies without compromising on the authenticity of the craft. They also face the challenge of conveying the value of the craft to the customers who may not be able to distinguish between the ‘handmade’ and ‘machine-made’. Strategic use of technology, combined with market wisdom can boost the industry and create a roadmap for continued success.