ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Transitioning Markets

Despite many anticipations of its decline, the resilience of the handloom market in India demonstrates an inherent quality of the product as well as the many intangible associations it carries for its customers. This article deals with different strategies used by firms to face various challenges. It also presents a different perspective in which the artisan mode of production successfully negotiates and challenges markets and the dominant mass production paradigm.

Transitioning Markets

Transcending Consumption

Despite many anticipations of its decline, the resilience of the handloom market in India demonstrates an inherent quality of the product as well as the many intangible associations it carries for its customers. This article deals with different strategies used by firms to face various challenges. It also presents a different perspective in which the artisan mode of production successfully negotiates and challenges markets and the dominant mass

production paradigm.


he ever-changing handloom market, slipping through the fingers of one retailer, secure in the shabby stockroom of another, defying quantification and characterisation, acquires to our contemporary understanding, as mythic proportions as the elephant to the six blind men of Hindustan.

The handloom industry of India once ruled world markets; today a large number of producers still work at the loom and continue to earn their livelihoods across rural India. In spite of repeated proclamations of decline, this resilience in the marketplace demonstrates an inherent quality of the product as well as the intangible associations it carries for the number of its customers.

This paper has two sections; the first section details the challenges faced by the contemporary firms that successfully market handloom or craft textiles.1 In the second section we present for consideration a different perspective in which the artisan mode of production successfully negotiates and challenges markets, and the dominant mass production paradigm. While the first section lays out the different strategies used successfully for marketing craft textile in the new marketplace, we argue in the second section for the need for a different production paradigm which has possibilities for equity and human well-being. Acknowledging the desirability of successfully negotiating markets, we contemplate a marketplace which is also responsible and vibrant in its place in society.

Challenges in Handloom Marketing

The different experiences of the case studies give us an indication of what the nature of the craft textile market may be. Among the cases2 Anokhi, Rehwa and Fabindia cater to the high end elite segment which is receptive to and appreciative of the handloom product, willing to pay for the additional value, but exacting in its demands and located far from the dispersed producer base. Desi, Urmul and Dama serve large urban middle markets where there is tremendous scope for growth, but where customers will look carefully at the price tag. The master-weavers and cooperatives of Koyyalagudem and Angara work with wafer thin margins and high efficiency within local economies, where the market comes to their doorstep. From the cases, therefore, we learn that the craft textile market is not uniform but made up of many segments, each with its scale, scope, and particularities which the sellers manipulate to their advantage.

Pioneered by the organisations like Dastkar (Delhi) in order to market craft products, the “exhibition” takes its inspiration from the traditional ‘haat’ or local market. The exhibition is a market space where the producers themselves travel to a distant urban space to sell their product directly to the buyer during a period that is predetermined. The exhibition marketing allows producers to produce at their own pace (control their own production cycles) and to gauge customer preferences. The buyer is offered quantity and variety from the clustering together of numbers of producers in the exhibition space. Buying from the maker becomes an experience rather than a dry exchange, through which the human dimension of craft production is carried over into the market transaction.

Whether marketing through exhibitions (like Rehwa, Dama and Urmul), or through retail outlets (like Fabindia, Anokhi and Desi), firms3 that market handloom product on a large scale, have to perform certain tasks. The first one is to design systems that link the distant market to the dispersed production mode in which a large number of weavers are spread over a geographical area. A variety of products must be brought together, as well as large volumes. Secondly, the supply channels designed must convey information about the market to the producer and conversely constitute the face of the producer to the market, substituting for brand presence and advertisement. Finally, quality parameters have to be negotiated between producer and market through this route. Producers must understand what customers view as quality in the market, while customers learn to value the quality that the producers bring. Relatively slow production cycles and the need of the individual producer to maintain a minimum rate of production are the features of the production structure. These must be matched to volatile market cycles. This typically happens over a period of time, and the case studies show supply and demand eventually settling into a stable upward spiral.

Having designed these systems in order to reach the market, firms then have to broaden the “handloom” or “handcrafted” niche, transitioning into larger marketplaces which value their speciality as being more than “handmade”. The sections below deal with issues, starting with

  • (a) matching the dispersed production base to the new marketplace, where innovative systems have to be designed within the firm, and roles conceived along the production-marketing chain which redistribute margins and transaction costs;
  • (b) building brand value in the larger marketplace for a product that has been relegated to a small niche market; and (c) the challenge of growing and transitioning out of a “declining” handloom market.
  • Accessing Markets

    The initial challenge of all the firms has been in accessing the marketplace. Thereafter, the firms have had to grow and transition out of the niche handloom market which is their initial support. In accessing the marketplace, how the different firms in our case studies have devised successful marketing systems for today’s marketplace, which is typically distant and geared to mass production and global fashion statements?

    Economic and Political Weekly August 5, 2006

    (a) Matching dispersed production to mass production markets: innovative systems design: A specific challenge for handloom marketing agencies is their location. The market is structured to handle large volumes of standardised homogeneous textile products, defining quality in mass production terms. But the dispersed production base is ordered very differently; production cycles are much longer, and the product less standardised. Locating themselves in between the two, firms must build links with a number of producer collectives to get quantity and variety. The basic identity of the product cannot be disguised; in fact, in order to sustain itself in the market the firm must allow for and build value for the human element in production, which is a combination of extraordinary skill and natural human inconsistency. How do firms achieve the necessary variety and volumes of standardised product that the modern marketplace is accustomed to, without compromising the production process of the artisan?

    Dama, Fabindia and Anokhi adopt a strategy of working with several producer groups, spread out geographically as well as in product; in order to achieve variety and volume. Having aggregated product, it then becomes imperative to standardise product across the different production units without losing the advantage of variety. A pre-production strategy used by all these agencies is a common colour palette shared between the different producer groups. Rather than a logistical process of aggregation, colour becomes a means of aggregating product. For instance, in the case of Dama, a colour palette shared between producer groups has been a critical tool. Not static, whole colour palettes are then changed for different reasons. Fabindia varies its colour range enough to retain customer interest but not so much as to dilute its identity. Anokhi, which is strongly identified with print, has a clearly recognisable colour identity that is both seasonal and contemporary. Dyeing the exact shade then becomes for the producer an important part of the quality requirement of the market.

    Another way of standardising the varied output of dispersed production used by handloom marketers is post-production unity. Tailoring is a value addition that can be made with the firm’s own resources, and is used by Urmul and Anokhi to turn fabric into similar finished products. Desi and Fabindia use the ubiquitous kurta, a popular garment style, to the same effect.

    All these organisations recognise that the mismatch between market demand and production unit quantities can be managed by designing systems that plan for producer time.

    (b) Matching dispersed production to distant markets: conceiving transaction value and efficiency: In meeting the requirements of organised retail, typically product has to be aggregated, as it gets closer to the retailing point. In the case of dispersed production, where production is not linked up end to end under the control of a single entity, economies of scale in textile retail dictate that margins grow larger towards the retailing end, with the producer end having the narrowest margins. Eventually this affects both the confidence of the producer and the quality of the product.

    In order to achieve stable production, if not growth, the firms studied all talk of “giving the producer a fair deal”. Across Desi, Urmul, Anokhi, Rehwa, Fabindia and Dama, where primary production is not located within the firm, but in producer collectives, there is a commitment from the firm to providing year round work to the producers, at fair wage. Payments are made on time, regardless of market fluctuations. This has helped the firms expand, with the producer collectives willing and able to bear some of the costs and risks of expansion after the initial learning phase.

    In this production system, farmers, spinners, dyers, printers, weavers are producers linked with each other through social and economic networks, who grow with the firm, but not within it. How have the different firms managed costs incurred in dealing with distant markets, and succeeded in passing on the additional margins to the producer collectives?

    Examining the efficiency of some of the standard operations across the firms, we see that retail turnover is monitored systematically for cost benefit, as in Desi and Anokhi. In the case of firms that do not have their own retail outlets, such as Dama, norms for recovering payments from customers within certain time frames are laid down, so that inventory costs do not overtake the margins. Product in the case of Dama is pre-sold in order to reduce credit periods from customers, inventory and marketing risk. Some firms, Fabindia and Urmul, for instance, use a strategy of pricing the product at a medium markup, to improve turnover, which not only guarantees a certain quantum of production, but also helps make payments to their producers on time.

    Design input becomes a recurring and expensive necessity for producers dealing with a distant market. In bringing down this cost, several firms have innovated on the location and role of designers within the firm. Fabindia consistently re-orders from its suppliers, communicating its design identity to the master-weaver. In the case of Fabindia, this identity is conceptualised strongly from its colour palette, postproduction inputs of productising the fabric and the feedback gathered from prior sales of the product on the shop floor. The masterweaver at the production end innovates using his technology, which may be checks, stripes or a new border, keeping within the sensibility of the Fabindia colour identity. The expensive functions of merchandising, productising and designing which become necessary for producers negotiating a distant market, are redistributed as customer feedback, colour and technology, in this case between Fabindia and the masterweaver at little additional cost.

    In similar strategies, almost all of the firms use their designers also to merchandise, expecting them to translate market information creatively into product that is saleable. For instance, in the case of Anokhi and Dama, the role of the designer has been defined as a merchandiser who not only reads and translates the market information, but also supervises its passage into the production process; and a conduit to convey production issues back to the market. This redefinition has been a major challenge and success, pushing high end costs down the value chain, towards overall sustainability.

    Some firms have invested in building producer enterprises, others in building management and entrepreneurial capabilities into cooperatives. All these firms have invested in producer collectives, redefining and moving key functions down the value chain, where typically margins are smaller. Traditionally increased individual productivity is seen as a means to improve returns to producers. Moving away from this understanding, firms have chosen to change the value of the transaction in the marketplace by positioning critical value addition at the producer end and improving returns to the producer. Pushing margins towards the producer end in the value chain allows the groups to grow, so that horizontal growth is possible. This

    Economic and Political Weekly August 5, 2006 further strengthens the producer vis-à-vis the distant market.

    Growth: Thinking Out of Box to Build Brand Value

    From the cases, it becomes obvious that firms have a market in mind before producing, within the broad identity of the product identity they work with. This is the market that each firm enters by design, the opportunity in the market that the firm exploits in order to find its initial foothold. In the case of organisations such as Rehwa or Urmul, growth of the firm is not seen as the focus, it is the vertical growth of the returns to the weavers that becomes the focus of the organisations. But some of the other cases point to a critical aspect that is negotiated by firms achieving scale, that is, they take care not to box themselves into a segment that does not allow growth into the larger marketplace.

    The master-weavers of Mangalagiri perhaps operate closest to the traditional handloom market. Whether servicing a distant Fabindia, or the local women, they operate in a local market, moving up and down within the local economy, marketing to their traditional customers with whom they have long-standing relationships. Working from similar geographic locations, the cooperative is located within a state supported structure. The cooperative of Angara sells handloom as a textile product, competing with cheaper products in the price sensitive, brand insensitive local market, proving that handloom cooperatives can be transformed into local enterprises, by resourceful management.

    Depending on its context the label of “handcrafted” has connotations that can vary from being seen as exclusive, expensive, or as non-standard and unreliable in quality. The handcrafted for these firms, is a function of production, but is seen by the market as a quality of the product. The growth of the firms shows that they have built brand value for their products in the market. How have firms built value for this function? How are these firms positioning themselves with regard to the label of handloom or handcrafted? To what extent is there an overlap? If there is, what allows these organisations to broaden the category of handcrafted and grow?

    Anokhi in its mission statement speaks of craft traditions, in terms of excellence, and as living traditions. The usage of the word “tradition” is directly different from a more revivalist approach to craft.

    Allowing a certain flexibility of movement, this neither abandons traditional motifs nor fossilises them. This also positively reinforces the craft, and challenges the trend of putting them at the bottom of the quality pyramid. The product, in this context is the result of the blending of the skill of the printer, and the sensibility of the contemporary market brought in by Anokhi through its designers. But cognisant of the fickleness of the high-end market, Anokhi chose the path of diversifying its product range, and constant design intervention so as to not fall into the fashion trap. This also led Anokhi to what many other firms selling handcrafted textiles came to, in their own way – control over retail space and shops of its own, where it sells the product that it has built brand value for.

    Fabindia works with a set clientele in mind, urban consumers who like natural fibres, and combines aesthetics with “character”. Fabindia’s retails stores are very high on “look touch feel”, which according to the case study “sets them apart from the unorganised setting of a crowded craft mela with people falling over each other”. The contribution of Fabindia has been to make handloom fabric into a product, ready to wear or ready to use, at the customers convenience, in her own time. The additionality of Fabindia is in building brand for the Fabindia Shop, where Fabindia converts the everyday handloom fabric into quality product, which is available to the customer at a cost that she is willing to pay.

    Positioning of the handloom product in the market has been consciously thought out by Desi. Neither a fashion label, nor a drab government emporium, it offers clothes plus for an essentially lower middle market. The store exudes a homely atmosphere and a direct counterpoint to the homogeneity and mall culture of the urban landscapes. The handloom products in Desi come across as unostentatious, homegrown, yet fashionable in a discreet sort of way, customers cut across classes and religions. Desi’s strategy of specialising in the kurta and the saree has made it stand out, giving it the twin advantages of brand association at the consumer’s end, both the saree and the kurta are quintessential “Indian” garments; and a comfort at the producer’s end, for whom the product was something they could easily identify with.

    In the case of Dama, the product is fabric of middle price range – plains, borders, checks and stripes and prints – which is positioned at the right places at the right time, as evident in the hugely successful exhibitions in metros where direct customer feedback is obtained. The major thrust of Dama with retail buyers has been to get them to understand the production cycle, and production technology and to work with this, rather than browbeat the production system into following the rhythms and strictures placed by the market on it. Rewarding and stimulating participation and ultimately partnership with producer groups – whether in the realms of design or marketing, Dama showcases the flexibility of the handloom process and its responsive nature.

    Building on the existing brand identity of the product in their chosen market segment, each of these organisations has built brand value for an additionality, which allows it to grow out of the segment and replicate itself. This brand is intrinsically linked to the handcrafted identity of the product, but broadens the scope of the market, eventually paving the way for growth for the handloom or craft industry itself.

    Transitioning Markets: Entrepreneur-Shop

    Firms which grow in the market, innovate in order to traverse market segments with different taste, demography, buying power, even across time and space as they straddle across generations of customers and move from export to domestic markets. It is this mobility that allows them to ride the tides in the market that perpetuate the failures of less resourceful organisations. Continually fine-tuning itself as a production marketing linkage that is responsive to the market, and also creating a brand for its product, the firm in each case has had to transition markets, in order to remain relevant in changing markets.

    Unlike mainstream marketing firms that sell handloom product, but are not committed to either the product or handloom weavers, the “firm” in this context of the cases studied comes to symbolise the entire group of people engaged in production. In the case of Anokhi, this encompasses the firm of Anokhi, along with the printers and producers from the industry that Anokhi is committed to; or in the case of Rehwa, the cooperative society, along with its patron organisation and its welfarist organisations. The immobility of the firm with

    Economic and Political Weekly August 5, 2006

    regard to its “producers” creates a peculiar exigency for the firm to move from one market to another, as shown in the case studies; demonstrating the firms’ ability to spot the opportunity to transition. How the different firms have experienced changing market conditions? How have they transitioned markets, in order to survive and grow? Has the entrepreneurial nature of this task been inhibited or accelerated by any particular condition either internal to the firm or external, in the marketplace?

    Urmul sells mostly through exhibitions, in which Dastkar, Delhi had pioneered; marketing craft products and sensitising the market and consumers about craft products. Urmul rode this wave very successfully, adapting its artisans’ rural products to urban markets and building a loyal customer base that was seen as visibly socially responsible. Quality of the product and the professional design input which were the key drivers of the craft movement of which Urmul was a part of, kept the product alive and it was able to ride the big retail wave in the mid-1990s when urban boutiques and shops started storing craft products in a big way for urban consumers.

    Anokhi’s early London foray established a presence in a completely new market and initiated a flood of imitators. Anokhi used this market to transfer the product from the declining local to the high end export. By a reverse process, the rejects of that trade flooded the Indian market, creating an environment ripe for the high end entry of Anokhi into the domestic market which was ready for household linen and accessories, which still retained the basic Anokhi fabric. Using designers well briefed in the ethos of the firm, Anokhi built a product identity by keeping to boundaries of tradition. It developed its ability to remain fresh and appealing to new generations reinforcing its twin commitment to market demand and product identity.

    Desi chose the strategy of making a fashion statement through handloom product, in the middle price segment, by the “process of profiling each rural product afresh, so they get converted into useful consumer products for the city market”. The kurta of Desi started in the niche market of people committed to social, economic and ecological issues, broadening, in the shop, the niche of people concerned about man, and his social and natural environments, from being the elite, to normal everyday middle class people. Linking the livelihoods of women producers of Charaka to middle class urban markets through Desi happens through a careful strategy of positioning and pricing of the product.

    In similar ways, Dama supplies distinctively different fabrics, to many segments, transitioning from the niche of supplying only “handloom buyers” (such as Fabindia) to mainstream retail chains where handloom fabric competes with different fabrics. Fabindia transitioning from exports into the domestic market, pioneered the original “handloom shop” giving women customers the retail experience of “making up” their kurta, pyjama and dupatta sets. The shop came to symbolise a certain flexibility to the customer, creating a sense of “choice”; in choosing handloom, in choosing Fabindia and in therefore, not choosing a universal homogeneous clothing, but something custom made to her choice.

    Functionally this space – the “exhibition” or the “shop” – is the gauge of the firms’ understanding of the saleability of the product in the current market conditions, within the brand it has created for itself. The shop, therefore, becomes a changing instrument and experience, which identifies market opportunities and responds to it, changing its profile to balance market information with its brand identity. Rather than as a segment or a channel that is used to market “a” product, the firm continually uses the shop to carve out space in the customers’ mind in order to impact the market. The shop therefore cuts across the different market segment in one single “face to the distant market”; mirroring both the changing marketplace as well its producers’ own flexibility in responding to it.

    The form of the organisation has had its impact in the ability of the firm to be entrepreneurial and spot the opportunity to transition markets. The master-weavers, Fabindia and Anokhi are commercial enterprises and exhibit entrepreneurship in a more traditional manner as evidenced by their many market transitions and their growth in the urban market. Rehwa, Urmul, strongly developmental, are cooperative societies which are successful in reaching their niche customers, but do not exhibit much transitioning out of their identified market. Desi and Dama, social entrepreneurs in their form, similar in their transitioning, exhibit vibrancy but grow more organically while reaching out to non-traditional users of handloom, broadening the niche into the mainstream middle market.

    II Challenging Markets

    The eight cases studied were presented at a seminar on handloom markets where different stakeholders of the handloom industry were invited to participate, including state officials and academics from various fields. Drawing from that discussion, while addressing issues of what markets could do for handlooms, one of the counter questions raised by a participant4 was “What can handlooms do for markets”? While it was recognised that market structures could be both enabling and disabling, this section explores the politics of the marketplace, with reference to the cases, as well as from the discussion that took place in the seminar. What kind of brand is to be built for the product and the producers? How do we ensure equitable returns to the producer, and value to the consumer? Markets are historically produced; they have ideological dimensions, what kinds of politics are involved in the marketing of handlooms? Are norms of the marketplace affected by the transaction between handloom producers and customers? In a world where increasingly technology and market are replacing community networks, what role do these firms play in resisting monolithic technology and market paradigms that exclude artisans?

    Drawing from readings and current debates, the issues raised by the group can be classified around three broad issues; which constitute the “triple bottom lines” of profit, people and planet. Weaving through these themes, we propose an alternate view of handloom and its potential for addressing some burning issues faced by society at large. This section deals with the potential of the handloom industry to support livelihoods of the rural poor and suggests a different perspective on “brand” identity. It also looks at how these firms have actually affected norms of the marketplace, and society, arguing for a new marketplace that redefines producer-consumer relationships by changing the nature of transaction itself. Moving brand identity from product to producer: impact on livelihoods of the poor: One of the key questions raised during discussion of the marketing case studies was on the issue of brands. Handloom and craft are traditional technologies, with traditional markets. On the

    Economic and Political Weekly August 5, 2006 other hand, the case studies show that traditional skills can be used to make new products for new markets.5 In order to grow in the market and impact employment potential in the sector, how should producers preserve their USP?6 What are the advantages of building local brands,7 should brands be built for the handloom/artisan industry or for individual products based on design/technology? What are the different firms building value for, and how does that impact producers and customers?

    We have already seen the examples of how the “handloom” brand is positioned in the marketplace with respect to the product. In addressing some of these questions, we further define brand value in the context of the impact on livelihoods8 of producers, in order that returns to craft producers in tangible and intangible terms are sustained over time.

    In building brand for a certain design identity, linked to the livelihood of the craftspeople they work with, Anokhi speaks of commitment to craft, and attributes its success to the relationships between skill, design and market and of the confidence of the craftspeople. It speaks of yet another choice; in the sizeable investment Anokhi has made in what they call “our” crafts people, in believing in their product, in growing them into enterprises, inextricably tying their growth together by investing time and resources into them.

    Urmul and Rehwa with their strong development focus, have built strong producer organisations, managed by the producer themselves, supported by the patron organisations. Control over decisionmaking and inclusion of the weavers in all parts of the management functions has given rise to producers who are able to negotiate the marketplace. Product design becomes a function of management, and brand is built for the Urmul producer, who is visible as he becomes the face to the outside and markets his own products.

    Desi and Dama talk of a different canvas, of the way the industry itself is conceptualised, and the transaction between producers and customers. While Dama talks of building brand for the industry as a model, which provides equity to producers, Desi builds brand for the mode of production, as it began looking at livelihood issues in the Malnad region of Karnataka. The impulse being to reduce pressures on agricultural land, handlooms became a tool to generate incomes for dalit women in the area. Desi talks about livelihoods for the producers, in the same breath talks of value to customers.

    The cases show us different positioning of the brands, beyond product. The cooperatives and master-weavers operate on the “traditional handloom” brand, the cooperative of Angara markets different varieties of sarees, which fit into the local market, both in aesthetic and price appeal. In the case of the commercial enterprises, such as Fabindia and Anokhi, they built brand value for themselves, while this brand is inextricably linked with the design identity of the producer groups. The development focused organisations Urmul and Rehwa, built brand for the product identity within the producer organisations. Desi and Dama are building brand for the producers themselves and the industry rather than linking brand to the product.

    In taking on the function of building brand value too, these firms exhibit an innovative strategy. We see that each of these firms negotiate a triple task: First: all the firms build brand for the production technique of the artisan, for instance, weaving and printing on behalf of the producer. The second task then becomes one of building a brand value for themselves, which keeps them ahead of competitors in the marketplace. But crucially the firms create value for another additional feature, which relates to the common sociocultural history of both the producer and the customer. Transcending the contractual nature of the marketplace, the firms build brand in these shared spaces, in one case linking artisan producers to issues of equity and livelihood, in another linking the mode of production to a conservation of land and forests, in the third to the ritual and traditions that inhabit local economies, in a fourth appealing to the aesthetic aspirations of an urban community that still has strong memories of its older social relationships and responsibilities. The boundary of the brand now gets defined within multiple spaces, creating brand not only for the individual producer, his product or his mode of production, but also impacting its value across entire social and cultural networks, and bringing them into play concretely into the marketplace. In building this value in the marketplace, the firms have an impact outside of their own production base. In successfully tapping the potential of the market to sustain rural artisan livelihoods, the firms offer a credible route map for others engaged in the same process.

    Changing Market Practices

    We have observed at the outset that there is a significant mismatch today between dispersed locales of production (which characterises textile craft, i e, handloom production) and markets (which are increasingly distant). We have further discussed the firms’ ability to impact customers’ buying behaviour and therefore, the nature of the interface between producers and customers. This has necessitated the discovery of new ways of reaching markets through the innovation of marketing and production practices. What is the effect this could have on the marketplace and its norms, on marketing practices as a whole?

    In addressing the question we started with, “what is the nature of the handloom market”, two broad views commonly emerge from the marketplace. The first view is of a traditional product that caters to local markets, with ritual and cultural associations with the product; both high end and low end. This market is still linked to the traditional mode of organisation, with traders with traditional relationships to producers. The second view is of specific “boutique” markets in the new marketplace, such as “ethnic” or “ecofriendly” or “socially responsible”, which are mostly distant, and need to be driven by firms with design and management expertise.

    While these markets seem to be disconnected, it would be more helpful to characterise the handloom market as a continuum, one end characterised by a totally economic transaction, at the other, an exchange characterised by its ritual, economic and cultural connotations to the communities engaged in the transaction. In the middle of that continuum is the emerging picture of handloom markets, dominated by the truly modern firm, which aspires to an achievable triple bottom line of balancing financial returns, social returns and concerns of environment and human well-being. It is clear from the cases and their analyses that handlooms can achieve several things and in doing so, becomes almost a metaphor for a different mode of transacting markets.

    The mainstream firms with an intention to grow in that space seek to take an advantage of the huge retail boom, choose working

    Economic and Political Weekly August 5, 2006

    with existing high-skilled artisans and streamline producer-retailer relationships, in order to cater to the changing market. Such firms grow, but in conforming to the market paradigm totally “disappear” the producer and his craft. Others, cut off from market contexts, and struggling with their own inability to negotiate the environment, push costs further down the value chain, marginalising the producer and recasting his image as ineffective, and an object of welfare. We argue that the totally “commercial”9 approach of treating handloom producer relationships as the only supply chain management is not desirable. Streamlining the producer firm-market relationship is imperative, and is to be co-opted in order to service mainstream markets; but in conforming to the corporate nature of the marketplace, we are underutilising the capability of the mode of production of the artisan industry. The totally social approach, which looks at addressing the needs of the marginalised producer, is problematic, because it creates an image of the weaver as unviable and in need of welfare. It further weakens producers by eroding their self-esteem, and brings down their value in the marketplace. There is, therefore, a reluctance shown by the state, as well as market players, in investing much needed capital and infrastructure for the industry.

    While there is nothing wrong with a fair commercial approach, which does not further marginalise its own producers, it is important to realise that investing in producer capacity-building, and innovating on forms of organisations to allow horizontal growth becomes critical for the quantum growth that such firms are aiming for. Similarly, the social organisations need to recognise that their own capacity of negotiating markets has to be built, if capital and investment from the market has to be accessed, and market presence created for their chosen constituency.

    The artisan mode of production has kept alive a much-needed second option to the mass production mode that encourages instant gratification consumption. In understanding the relevance of decentralised production today, we see the strategy that involves an economy of diversification, or a certain “open-endedness of the final output”.10 This economy, with markets that value differentiation which demand flexible specialisation,11 tends to be large for small firms using tools or generic machinery, and small in large firms with specific machinery and narrowly skilled labour.12 We argue that productivity and growth can be achieved through servicing these markets, achieving financial and social equity without destabilising natural resources and our environment. Both the technology and the marketing firms innovated for handlooms today allow a re-inscription of the producer as driving this process.




    [This article has been the result of insights generated in the course of discussions with Uzramma, Latha Tummuru, Shyamasundari and Seemanthini.]

    1 For the purpose of this paper, the terms handloom and craft textiles are used interchangeably.

    2 Refer cases in Part I of this special issue.

    3 For the purpose of the paper, the term firm includes all forms of organisations studied in the cases, which transact with the market and include commercial enterprises, NGOs, trusts and cooperatives.

    4 Sasheej Hedge in discussion. 5 Tirthankar Roy in discussion. 6 Laila Tyabji in discussion. 7 Aaker (1996) defines brand as “a set of assets

    and liabilities linked to a brand’s name or symbol that adds or subtracts from the value provided by a product or service to a firm and/ or the firm’s customers”; for G R Henderson, D Iacobucci and B J Calder (1998), the brand is a “strong sustainable differentiated advantage with respect to competitors that leads to a higher margin or higher volume to the company compared with the situation it would have without the brand. The differential volume or margin is the consequence of the behaviour of the consumers, the distribution channel and the companies themselves”. Building on this, within a “declining” market for the traditional handloom brand, we posit that the firms are building “brand value” through the additionality that each firm has secured in the marketplace.

    8 “A livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets (stores, resources, claims and access) and activities required for a means of living: a livelihood is sustainable which can cope with and recover from stress and shocks, maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets, and provide sustainable livelihood opportunities for the next generation; and which contributes net benefits to other livelihoods at the local and global levels and in the long- and short-term” [Chambers and Conway 1992:7-8].

    9 Commercialisation is defined as one or more of three processes [see Roy 1999]: (1) Shift away from production for one’s own use, to production for the non-local market. (2) To shift from local to long-distance trades. (3) The creation of infrastructure and institutions which aid such shifts; a fourth qualitative dimension is added, a change in consumer and producer behaviour induced by the possibility of long-distance trade.

    10 Piore 1992.

    11 The ability to serve different tastes and market segments with general purpose machinery or tools and the ability to make adjustments in the tools to enable such adaptations, see Sabel and Zeitlin 1985.

    12 Roy (1999) states that the former usually appears in the form of dense collections of small firms transacting between themselves for input requirements. The vertically integrated firm illustrates the latter.


    Aaker, David (1996): ‘Measuring Brand Equity across Products and Markets’, California Management Review, 38 (3), pp 102-20.

    APMAS-ISLP (2005): Report on Status of Livelihoods and Livelihood Promotion in Drought-prone Andhra Pradesh.

    Chambers, R and G Conway (1992): Sustainable Rural Livelihoods: Practical Concepts for the 21st Century, IDS Discussion Paper 296, IDS, Brighton.

    Henderson, G R, D Iacobucci and B J Calder (1998): Brand Constructs: The Complementarity of Consumer Associative Networks and Multidimensional Scaling, Marketing Science Institute Report, No 98-128.

    Mainka, Jeff, Sue and McNeely Bill Jackson (2005): Depend on Nature – Ecosystem Services Supporting Human Livelihoods, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

    Piore, M J (1992): ‘Technological Trajectories and the Classical Revival in Economics’ in M Storper and A Scott (eds), Pathways to Industrialisation and Regional Development, Routledge, London and New York.

    Roy, T (1999): Traditional Industry in the Economy of Colonial India, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

    Sabel, C and J Zeitlin (1985): ‘Historical Alternatives to Mass Production, Politics, Markets and Technology in 19th Century Industrialisation’, Past and Present.

    Subscription Numbers

    Subscribers are requested to note their Subscription Numbers mentioned on the wrappers and quote these numbers when corresponding with the circulation department.

    Economic and Political Weekly August 5, 2006

    Dear Reader,

    To continue reading, become a subscriber.

    Explore our attractive subscription offers.

    Click here

    Back to Top