Off late, some of the questions which we get to hear are "How can we be conscious consumer and at the same time support handmade by buying more?" or "In the current economic scenario, it's not only the sellers but also the buyers who are struggling, so what to expect?"
These are noteworthy questions, but let's recognise that the handmade industry was not thriving before the pandemic. It's just that the quandary has become more real and visible on social media.
Still, there could be a couple of ways of deciphering these observations. The first one... buy less but pay better, shop local, support small businesses, ask questions, understand the craft, like-comment-share the post of your favourite brands, to name a few.
The other one involves a bit of mathematics.
As per the recent handloom census from the government, we seem to have 31 lakh-odd weaver household in India (Well, let's not indulge in probing if these numbers are an underestimate or if it has disparaged the auxiliary workers or the seriousness of having an independent auditor. It's a story for some other time)
So, if 31 lakh household can hand-weave on an average of 6 meters a day and if a weaver works for 25 days a month, the textile produced in a year is 5,58,00,00,000 meters. Relax, it's 558 crore meters.
Even if only 10% of India's population, that's roughly 13,80,00,500 are to be supporting VocalforLocal, then this concerned 10% need to buy 3.5meters of fabric a month. Sounds very doable, right? Yet, we struggle.
Here are some of the flaws.
To start with, 10% itself is an exaggerated number. Despite the sloganeering Aatmnirbaratah, the majority doesn't seem to support locally hand-woven. Even the institutional purchase from the government departments can be questioned.
As the consumer is not used to the 'true cost' and instead buys only subsidised fabric from the fabric bhandars, under any adversity, the government retracts financial support from what they consider as non-essential sectors. This directly hurts the already struggling industry.
A lot of subsidization through private funding, CSR funds, special grants go into building mega-scale rural livelihood opportunities, but seldom into documentation, advocacy, digital literacy, marketing, or even on sensible narratives in value creation.
The lapse amongst many designers, co-operatives, and NGOs in reducing the consumers only to purchase an end-product instead of making them as a part of their journey and/or as a beneficiary of the solution offered, has also resulted in awareness vacuum.
Absence of policy implementation on the ground has also resulted in a majority of well-intended consumers buying machine-made fabric sold under the disguise of handmade. The lack of awareness in distinguishing between handmade and the rest adds up to the adversity.
As a conscious consumer, instead of burdening ourselves to buy more, we are obliged to spread the circle and influence our family, friends, and neighbours to invest in handmade. There is no charm in either being inconsequential or exclusively at opposition.
As much as our democratic rights do not end with our voting, our responsibility towards handmade does not end with our purchase, it's only the beginning.
If not anything, this pandemic should teach us well being of others is as important as ours. Hence, it's time to relook at our priorities and simply re-start all over again.