I have my family to thank for a lot of things, but on top of the list is teaching me to speak in my mother tongue. Being able to speak Gujrati has made such a remarkable difference in my ability to develop a relationship and solicit responses from the artisans and producers I’m working with here in
After drinking and perspiring nearly 5 liters of water, I concluded gathering my wage and product data. I noticed a trend that continued from my previous meetings with artisan groups I visited in Mumbai that didn’t settle well with me. I had reserved judgment, and am continuing to reserve judgment until the end of my trip. But I am an opinionated woman, so I am going to express my opinions about what I have observed so far (“so far” being the key word). I came to
The handicrafts sector is very inefficient and is resisting technological advancements. Now hear me out, there is a flip side to this. But first, from a purely business perspective, the handicrafts sector is inefficient because employing humans is cheaper in India (and many many parts of the world) than using machinery because (i) individuals and businesses (small) lack strong credit and thereby lack access to capital (ii) the poor infrastructure – unreliable electricity, water, etc. – makes it difficult to rely upon machinery (especially at the small business level), and (iii) labor is very cheap. The market minimum wage varies largely by regions, but I would say the lowest I have observed is near Rs. 60/ day (about $1.50/day). Now, this does not mean 8 hours a day. This means working prolly 12-13 hours a day and prolly in a physically demanding role.
In my opinion, many of these handmade products are being produced in human-equipped factories. For example, while Patwa’s jewelry products are beautiful, making these products by hand vs. machine does not increase the value of the product. Patwa’s artisans are in actuality minimum wage laborers that are mass producing products. Patwa’s equity should be in designing new products, and should not be limited to his labor.
When I visited a fashion scarves producer in Mumbai, I was a little jolted to find out that the firm doesn’t make a single product. They are simply a wholesale distributor/exporter – I’m not even sure all of their products are handmade. Any stitching work, embroidery work, etc. is outsourced. So I am a bit confused why a Fair Trade organization would work with a firm that has no direct impact on the actual scarf weavers. I hope to clarify this with Asha during my exit presentation. I’m sure there is more to the story than I am aware of.
When I visited a copper metal handicrafts company in Allibagh (off of the coast of
Which brings me back to VGS in Mandvi. Their largest competitive threat comes from machine- made, printed, Batik products. I realized that the art in Batik does not actually reside in any one person’s artistic ability rather the art is in the batik dye process. I’m not an expert to determine whether there is actually a value added in making the product by hand or not. VGS recruits young village girls and boys and trains them in the art of Batik. However, unlike the copper metal work, fashion scarves and jewelry making, Batik work did originate in
I departed VGS on my first of many scooter rides (pictured). Below I've also included pics of my visit to Vijaya Villas Palace, where the hindi movie Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam was filmed. The pic at the top is of Mandvi Beach (notice the wind turbines on the beach).