When the pandemic led to a complete lockdown, one sec tor that feared losing out for
ever was the handicrafts one. Artisans felt that people would not considerbuy ing from them, as theirs was not considered a priority sector. However, companies like Direct Create helped them overcome their fears and, though the demand for handicrafts isn't as high as it would otherwise have been, it has kept craftsmen busy.
"In November, one of the artisans associated with us got an order for making customised copper bottles for a client in Canada," elaborates Sheela Lunkad, who founded the company in 2015, Jaipur, along with her husband Rajeev. "Within 10 days, the consignment was made ready and shipped out. Every little order is helping these days." When they set up their company, they had got tS0 lakh funding from Rajasthan Venture Capitalist Fund (RVCF) in exchange for a 2 per cent stake.
Direct Create is a digital creative platform, connecting craftsmen to a global network of designers and buyers to collaborate and co-create handcrafted products. "We set up this company as a collaborative, which works only in the handicrafts sector," says Sheela Lunkad. "We have worked with 15,000 artisans across the country, out of which 2,500 are registered with us. We also have 1,500 designers registered with us." The company recorded a
?20 crore turnover in the last financial year, she adds.
The company involves itself in ceramic, glass, textile, leather, wood, jewellery, stone and metal crafts. Both Sheela and Rajeev Lunkadhave studied architecture. While Sheelamoved on to designing the interiors of fab India stores, Rajeev helped in the restoration of the Jal Mahal in Jaipur. After having worked with artisans in their respective workspace, the couple decided to set up a company that could encourage local craftsmen to get in touch with buyers.
"The most important thing for an artist is to stay connected with his art," explains Mohammad Tahir, a crafts man. "Covid had literally brought us on the road. However, after I got in touch with Direct Create, my products became visible on a digital platform, as a result of which I am getting orders from within the country and even overseas."
"We are optimistic that things will pick up next year," Sheela adds. "Al the same time, we hope the youth of our country will learn to appreciate and patronise craftsmen. We began as a B2B company, but we are more a B2C unit now."
With many people working from home, Direct Create is hopeful that people would consider including traditional crafts to do up their houses- ranging from bed linen to furniture. Last year (2019) was good for the company, as it attended the Milan Design Fair and also put up a crafts exhibition during the much talked about lsha Ambani wedding.
"We haven't given up, the vagaries of the pandemic notwith standing," affirms Sheela. "I have been attending webinars like ‘Sustainable financial models for museums and cultural spaces', organised by Ficci earlier this year, where one is in sync with ways to preserve handicrafts, which is so integral to our heritage".
Despite the odds the pandemic has created, companies like Direct Create are giving artisans across the country some hope for survival. Though no data is available on the number of artisans across India, a conservative estimate puts the number at 1.5 million, though it could be higher, considering that a lot of farmers and their families supplement their income by makinghandi crafts during the offseason.
A national census of handicrafts, undertaken by NCAER, reveals that the value of handicrafts last year was INR 26,213 crore. People across all segments of society should consider buy ing from artisans when they venture out to shop. India has a rich cultural heritage and this is one way of ensur ing that it stays afloat!