Culturally Sensitive and Commercially Sustainable - Co-creating the Future for Craft Enterprises?
Professor Jackie Guille
Co-Investigators: Gill Rowe (Northumbria), Usha Patel and Nandita Abraham (Pearl Academy of Fashion, India), Ujwala Jodhi (Dastkar Kendra Ranthambore, India)
How do you create sustainable enterprises whilst remaining sensitive to cultural traditions? Is it possible to deliver commercial value while protecting the authenticity of the product? This project explores the way in which interdisciplinary collaboration can help to create an in-depth understanding of the broader social context, the cultural sensitivities and intricacies to be addressed in the process of establishing sustainable craft enterprise.
ContextThe uniqueness and value of traditions and hand-made products is in danger of being lost or distorted through a process of cultural homogenization. The handicrafts of India represent a rich cultural tradition – forms of creative expression, functional objects of daily use in the home or linked to ritual and celebration. Arguably today’s commercial exploitation represents a threat to the authenticity of this cultural heritage because it inevitably changes the form and function of the resultant artefacts. Craft is poised between the rich legacy of traditional practice and the demands of evolving fashions. Village haats (bazaars) are being supplanted by shopping malls full of ubiquitous international brands.
In 2008, a collaboration funded by the UK Government Department for International Development (DfID) under the DeLPHE scheme, focused on ‘Sustainability and equitable development in India’s Rural Craft Industry’ was established between the School of Design, Northumbria University, UK and the Pearl Academy, India, and Dastkar, a society that supports craft and craftspeople across India.
The DeLPHE project sought to clarify the role that design thinking and interdisciplinary collaboration can practically contribute to the development of sustainable craft enterprise. In this context sustainable development is defined as balanced economic, social and environmental progress that meets the needs of present and future generations through the creation of lasting jobs, increased efficiencies in business, and greater cross-cultural understanding.
The project promoted interdisciplinary collaboration between design and business staff, creating synergies, which informed and enhanced the holistic nature of the project and gave staff an in-depth understanding of the broader social context, the cultural sensitivities and intricacies to be addressed in the process of establishing sustainable craft enterprise.
What We DidThe craft sector is often seen as an effective means of creating sustainable livelihoods and nurturing small and micro-enterprises but much craft production in rural and marginalized communities arises out of desperate economic conditions. There are an estimated 20 million artisans in India who typically live on less than two dollars a day and depend on craft as a main source of livelihood. Few have a business strategy or knowledge of the wider marketplace and many resort to ‘doing what they can do’ in the hope that they will be able to sell their products.
A large part of our task was to understand:
- The complexities of what is presently going on in the craft sector
- The cultural influences from the outside world that have infiltrated the craft aesthetic
- How designs and products have responded to changing markets and lifestyles
- The conflict between individual creativity and market forces
- How to effectively adapt traditional crafts in the creation contemporary products that tap into the demand for decorative products.
2 main methods were used when conducting the research:
- Field Research - Fashion and Textiles staff drawn from both partner HEIs engaged in field research within the craft cluster in Ranthambore and at the grassroots in the adjacent villages of Kundera and Khilchepur.
- Surveys - Concurrent with the field research, a working group of Fashion Business staff undertook an extensive survey of the retail sector, visiting a range of outlets in Delhi, Jaipur and Bangalore that promote and sell traditional and contemporary crafts.
Who will benefit- Dastkar Kendra Centre (craft cluster)
- Adjacent villages of Kendra and Kilchepur, Ranthambore, India
Sustainability poses a complex set of questions and students need a pedagogical approach that helps them acknowledge the insufficiency of their knowledge, the challenge of understanding the complexity of all the intersecting issues and strategically planning for a future that cannot altogether be known. The techniques for brainstorming and ideation that our students bring to the studio are similar—design students draw sketches in the ideation phases and management students draw business plans. When they engage in these activities together, two things happen. First, they learn that the underlying learning processes are similar, even if the vehicle is different. Second, they see how incomplete their learning is if enacted in isolation and can appreciate the benefits to be derived from collaborative learning. The project challenged staff, placing them outside their normal comfort zone but provided a real-world experiential context that enabled them to move beyond a discipline specific context and employ the firsthand knowledge gained to propose appropriate solutions to the problems faced by the cluster. The lessons learnt provide a guideline for further intervention and has informed pedagogical practice at both partner institutions.
The Dastkar Kendra Centre in Ranthambore was selected for the experiential learning, as the region offers potential for growth and its’ proximity to Delhi provided easy access for field-research and workshop interventions. The centre has achieved many milestones and their merchandise is on display in various bazaars throughout India, but if the centre were to achieve long-term sustainability it needed to gear up its operating structure, expand production and increase turnover and give further attention to its brand identity and marketing strategy in order to better position itself to exploit local and national opportunities.