Profiles of Textile Artisans in Kutch, Gujarat, India
Updated: Feb 27
The business of fashion differs in many aspects from that of craft. For sustainable collaborations between actors from the two spheres a mediation process is necessary.
In the search for sustainable environmental and social solutions in textile and fashion production industry stakeholders are increasingly focusing on local and ethical sourcing. Traditional textile craftsmanship is a living example of slow-paced, resource mindful and socially sustainable production.
“Collaborations between fashion and craft will foster storytelling and authenticity. Respectful, ethical partnerships that support communities, and conscious, handcrafted fashion are set to become a new form of luxury.” (WGSN, 2018)
While this sounds like the ideal solution and should be globally embraced as it comes to support the 1st Sustainable Development Goal contributing to poverty alleviation, textile and fashion industry stakeholders face major difficulties in initiating, managing, maintaining and sustaining collaborations with craft communities.
One of the main obstacles is the limited understanding of the world, values, and lifestyles of textile artisans and of their relationship to their craft. Artisans are viewed as skilled labour rather than as a creative profession (Clifford, 2018). Recent researchers, including Clifford (2018), who proposes an urgent need to change the broadly held perceptions of the handloom industry as skilled labour and realise its full creative potential with a view to the elevation, desirability and sustainability of craft livelihoods, call for the recognition of the meaning of the craft for the artisan (Klamer, 2019) and warn about the risk of oversimplifying craft and reducing artisans to simple factors of production (Baicu et al. 2018).
Looking at the artisan as an actor in the textile value chain, this study seeks to provide an understanding of the interests and expectation of textile artisans based on two pillars: (i) their individual profiles and (ii) the factors that determine their relationship with their craft. This is a compulsory preliminary step for “partnering with and supporting local craft communities to bring social and commercial enterprise together” (WGSN, 2018).
Grounded in the value-based approach to craft economy (Klamer, 2017) the profiling strategy used for this study employs a set of 14 indicators derived from three theme blocks determining craft relationship, status and individual character. Choice of the indicators is based on qualitative ethnographic in-depth interviews and participant observation. The Profiling Strategy developed for this study is a useful tool in decision-making related to textile artisans as collaborators and as an element of novelty collects information of non-monetary value (i.e. Theme Block 3) which can be capitalized through storytelling as a marketing tool.
Findings reveal a pyramidal structure determined by respondents’ income level and exposure. Small and medium enterprises are advised to target respondents positioned at ground and mid-level in the pyramid of wealth and influence at craft level, for which international exposure would create quantifiable positive impact, whilst big enterprises and luxury fashion brands would be best accommodated by respondents positioned at the highest level of the pyramid.
The aim of the fieldwork was to hear the voice of contemporary textile craftspeople from Kutch, Gujarat, India and based on their input and ethnographic observation to understand their profiles and map their different relationships with textile craft and traditional textile knowledge.
The practical interest of this study is not only supported by academic research but is also seconded by practical initiatives such as The Craft Catapult – India’s first craft start-ups accelerator working on technology facilitated disruptive solutions in the craft value-chain and Design meets Craft – a Berlin based initiative that connects designers and artisans around the world on the first fair and transparent co-creation platform.
This study has a cross disciplinary contribution to the fields of cultural economics and craft, supplier relationship management and capacity building in textile value chains and prefigures a body of research on the status of artisans as right-holders and the implications thereof in textile value chain management.
The economic value craftspeople generate in India has been a topic of interest for decades. Recent research still refers to India as the “workshop of the world” (Ballyn, 2019).
Whilst the economic value of craft might be instrumental to guarantee the survival of the sector, the risk of oversimplifying craft and reducing artisans to simple factors of production is tangible and underlined in contemporary research (Baicu et al. 2018).
Supporting Klamer’s value-based approach to craft economy (2017) the perspective of this field study is centered on the non-economic value of craft and its relevance for contemporary textile and fashion value chain management. According to Klamer (2019) the value-based approach encourages “consumers” to look beyond the transaction in which they buy craft products from the “producers,” as one would do in a typical economic account, and consider the context in which a craft comes about. For that a closer look at the Universe of the artisan is imperative, to understand the artisan as an individual not as a number in a statistic and grasp the relationship of the artisan with the craft.
Klamer (2019) suggests that recognition of craftsmanship as a practice by way of which craftspeople realize something important to them as opposed to simply reducing them to manual laborers who create products for the market, will increase the economic value of craft and sustain a culture of craftsmanship with a distinct respect for the unique human capacity to make, to create.Klamer further suggests that [craftspeople] “will understand that the value of their practice increases when more people understand what they are doing and are able to appreciate the qualities of what they are doing. That is why they need to tell their stories, share with others what making quality products involves, so that people develop a distinctive taste.”
This field study was designed to respond to this call for action.
Applying a holistic value-based approach to craft implies taking into account that craft is considered to be part of intangible cultural heritage and requires a legal framework for protection and promotion (Mignosa, 2019). Crafts are to be preserved and transmitted to future generations and by protecting cultural heritage there is likely to be continuity in employment (Ballyn, 2019).
Cultural Sustainability enabling - According to Pereira (2007), cultural sustainability is based on the principle that the current generation can use and adapt cultural heritage only to the extent that future generations will not be harmed in their capacity of understanding and living the multiple meanings and values of this heritage. Textile craftsmanship is part of cultural heritage and has been an important element in building cultural identities. This is reflected in the traditional garments of different communities and indigenous people worldwide.
The full report is available for download here:
©Monica Boța-Moisin, CIPRI 2020
Bhilal and Indhris Khatri - Ajrakh block printers, Khavda;
Haresh Hemraj Manodhiya - Weaver, Bhujodi;
Devalben Maghabhai Rabari - Rabari embroideress, Loday;
Ramji Punja Doriya - Mashru weaver, Godhra;
Dr. Ismail Khatri - Ajrakh block printer, Ajrakhpur;
Abdul Jabbar Khatri - Ajrakh block printer, Dhamadka;
Damji and Chaman Vankar - Weavers, Bhujodi;
Jabbar Khatri - Bandani and tie-and-dye printer, Bhuj
Key Informants: Asif Shaikh and Kuldip Gadhvi.
Text & Photography Copyright: Monica Boța-Moisin
Graphic Design: Diana Codrean