Salvaging craft traditions
Here’s a frightening thought: imagine if all craft became extinct like the Dodo bird. Well, that almost happened in India during the 1970s. Many artisans gave up on their art, left their tiny villages and traveled to urban areas to join the factory force. What artisans needed was hope—asha in Sanscript—and encourgement to continue their craft traditions.
Luckily, the late founder Mrs. Iscah Andrews had the foresight to salvage the many crafts of India by launching Asha Handicrafts in 1975. The organization determined right from the start that its success hinged on providing a sustainable living to disadvantaged artisans througout India and to follow the values of fair trade: putting people before profits; conduct business with the purpose to transform lives; make certain the artisans receive a fair share of the retail value of their product; and ensuring no child labor is involved in the production process.
Currently, ASHA’s producer network is comprised of 750 to 800 artisans who produce a wide range of handcrafts from block printing to jewelry to wood work. The organization provides marketing support to each of the artisans. Among the succeses they’ve reached so far has included the prestigious WFTO (World Fair Trade Organization) certification, and helping more than 5,000 people through the ASHA Resource Center (ARC), its social reform arm to aid artisans and community development projects.
ARC offers intiatives like Assistance for Raw Material Supply (ARMS), providing small loans to producers so that they’re able to purchase raw materials and keep in adequate supply to fulfill their orders. Other measures include training and implemeting workplace safety guidelines, purchasing filters for clean water, and educational programs in cash flow management as well craft training to improve skills.
Yet, there are challenges. Organizations like ASHA face internal business issues such staffing, cash-flow concerns, and recovering from years of recession, but also increased global competition from other groups. “The State needs to help the craftsmen develop new technology, new designs, production processes and sustainable quality with competitive pricing to have an edge over our neighbor—China. We are also unable to compete with other countries such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka who offer subsidized intervention to progress and promote craftspeople, culture and products,” according to Ivan Carvalho, ASHA’s export marketing manager.
To expand their market reach and woo buyers, ASHA will be attending for the second time NY NOW’s Artisan Resource from February 4-7 at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. “We will be introducing a new fashion line as well as high-end silver jewelry. A majority of these products are created by our women artisans. The inspiration behind these new products is women helping women to sell the products and create a world of fashion,” said Carvalho.
Their new fashion and jewelry lines are inspired by currents trends designed in-house or by their client’s designers. “Our product range includes, fashion accessories/jewelry, and home decor. Our partners in the Amercan market include Ten Thousand Villages and SERRV International. Through them, consumers can purchase many of our products,” said Carvlho.
To learn more visit www.ashahandicrafts.com.