January , 2020
Handicraft fairs to curb middlemen issues
16:08 pm

Ankit Singh

In the past, middlemen were necessary to enable effective market linkages for the handicraft sector. However, they used to often, if not always, exploit artisans by paying them only a fraction of the profits. The artisans, on the other hand, being unaware of the market value and due to lack of bargaining power, suffered economically due to the incorrect role played by the middlemen.

The increased number of handicraft fairs that are being organised have managed to reduce the risk posed by middlemen and ensured better market exposure for the local artisans. These government organised fairs are enabling artisans to directly sell their products and increase their penetration.

The Government of West Bengal recently concluded its famous Hastashilpa Mela which gives artisans from rural areas an opportunity to directly connect with customers. The fair, organised by the West Bengal Khadi (unit of the state government), featured the best handicrafts from the state. The stalls were run by the handicraft-makers themselves. Around 7,500 handicraft artisans participated in the fair that was spread over an area of one lakh square feet. Besides selling the craftwork, these fairs act as a platform for the realisation of business opportunities for the artisans. It provides them the liberty to negotiate self-assessed favourable prices of their hand-made products. The state government has also developed various hubs like Biswa Bangla Haat and collaborated with various organisations to improve the economic and social conditions of local artisans.

Anjura Mullick, a local artisan present at the fair selling hand-designed sarees, serwanis and ornaments, told BE, “I have been participating in these fairs for the last four years. This particular fair that runs for a month gives me the opportunity to sell maximum garments compared to other places. I managed to earn more than Rs 25,000 from this last year. I am also able to build a connection with most of my customers who often visit my stall to buy clothes. They even come to Biswa Bangla Haat on my insistence to purchase products during the rest of the year. I manage to get some orders from the vendors in the market as well. In my locality, I have started to train girls after getting a license from W.B. Khadi & V.L. Board.”

The state government also helps the artisans by providing minimum daily expenses of food and accommodation during the fairs. The fairs organised largely to benefit the local artisans, are also being crowded by an increasing number of middlemen in recent years.

Dipankar Sardar, a woodwork artist from Murshidabad, told BE, “My brother and I have been carving designs on bamboo products for the last 15 years. The fair provides us the platform to connect with customers who are on a lookout of unique intricately designed works. However, prices are a major consideration. Many customers are normally lured by the middlemen who have also found ways to set up their stalls in the fair. They aim for quick, standardised and low-cost replicas. They bring these handicraft products from neighbouring states at cheaper rates and sell them at small margins. We take weeks to accumulate the resources and prepare our collections. Competing with these cheap substitutes is increasingly getting difficult.” Many local artisans also travel to fairs held in different states. West Bengal Khadi has partnered with Banglanatakdotcom to expand the outreach of the artists and to develop a community-led creative handicraft industry.

Niloy Basu, General Manager (Operations), Banglanatakdotcom, told BE, “Our first initiative was in rural craft hubs where we started working with 3000 artisans and later it was scaled out to another 12,000, including the folk artists and handicraft artisans from across West Bengal. Earlier, these craft hubs were supplying materials to other persons and these middlemen used to deliver the materials to supply offices. Now we link the artisans directly with the market.”

To empower the artisan community, there are several new age entrepreneurs who are focusing to improve their financial condition. Ruma Shroff Datta, Director, Design and Merchandising, Khadder, told BE, “We are sourcing our products from the weavers and artisans and giving them a platform. We also extend financial assistance to them. There are certain groups to which we lend our money to produce merchandise and fabric and adjust the expenses and profits in a phased manner, keeping in mind the cost of the fabric and their margins. Our pricing mechanism also favours the weavers. Additionally, we urge our customers to pay above the marked base price and that extra amount goes directly to the weavers. This is a new concept in the Indian market.”

West Bengal Khadi also provides a corpus capital of Rs 5 lakh rupees to the artists, which serves as the working capital money for them to make their products and reach out to the market. This has greatly helped to get them away from the clutches of moneylenders and middlemen. Similarly, an online portal called Shilp Mantra is bringing craftsmen and buyers together on its platform. The collective efforts by the government agencies and private entrepreneurs are helping the artisans to cut off middlemen who were eating into their profits.



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