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    Interview with Sharda Gautam

    Sharda Gautam
    Sharda Gautam
    Anchor - Antaran Initiative, Zonal Manager
    Tata Trusts
    Tata Trusts

    A peep into Antaran - How did this initiative come about? Please share your journey, and, if possible, any interesting anecdote that could have triggered or served as a catalyst in the growth of this initiative?

    Tata Trust has a 129-year history of philanthropy and development. Antaran was conceptualised as one such intervention that will act as a one-stop destination for buyers, designers, researchers, and lovers of traditional crafts, with a focus on rejuvenating the handloom sector.?

    A pilot was designed to work in 6 weave clusters across four states Assam (Kamrup and Nalbari), Nagaland (Dimapur), Odisha (Gopalpur and Maniabandha) and Andhra Pradesh (Venkatagiri) to demonstrate a way forward and prove the viability of crafts as a means of livelihood.?

    The handloom industry is at a critical juncture with young weavers drifting away from the sector at an alarming rate, threatening the preservation of special skills. The answer to saving handloom lies in a fundamental shift in perspective: Recognising that there is a human being behind every piece of handloom textile and that it is a product, not a commodity.?

    This need led to the creation of a systematic intervention for revival and reinterpretation of handlooms, making them marketable in the contemporary context -?
    • Handloom textiles have very strong commercial viability in shorter runs and as unique bespoke products
    • Handlooms clusters can be made a go-to source for fashion businesses by properly training young weavers in fashion and business?
    • Textiles made from naturally dyed hand-spun fibre will make cheaper imitations by machine a history
    • The world is moving towards slow and sustainable fashion and India has the potential to meet this demand, as 90 per cent of the world's handloom is produced domestically?
    • Business practices have changed significantly in the last three decades. Weavers and their current market interfaces are not equipped to connect and leverage the real share of 'couture' products. An education on design and business, therefore, is required
    • Weavers earn most when they are enabled to speak to markets directly. All efforts towards upskilling and reskilling are directed towards empowering weavers in the direction of entrepreneurship and self-employment

    There are a variety of clusters where artisans have been formed into self-help groups and the likes, but their plight continues to remain the same - how different is your effort in alleviating this?

    At Antaran, we aim to empower and enable the communities while systematically inculcating education that transforms their livelihood. The overarching objective is to create Artisan-led microenterprises that will help them sustain and create a lucrative profession for the younger generation.?

    Our studies have shown that though there have been organised initiatives before, the situation had not improved as systemic issues were not being addressed. Our belief, therefore, is that strengthening individuals to be entrepreneurs and arming them to take responsibilities will be more effective. This is done through:

    1. Exposure to e-commerce?
    There is a huge shift towards digital platforms for customers today. Artisans were exposed to digital marketing, which paved the path for Antaran Artisan Connect, putting them in direct touch with their customers. The artisan entrepreneurs nurtured under the initiative are also exploring other avenues by showcasing products on platforms such as Gocoop, Etsy and Pernia's-pop up shop.??

    2. Digital and social media intervention
    In 2020, due to the pandemic, virtual markets emerged as the sole solution. The main challenge was to manage the transition of the sale-purchase experience from tactile to virtual. Artisan entrepreneurs were trained to interact with customers through phone, video calls, WhatsApp for business, photograph and post products on Instagram and Facebook and use appropriate hashtags.

    Through this, artisans explored the preferences of customers and contemporary markets, while customers learned the intricacies of the art, becoming true patrons of the craft.?

    3. Antaran Knowledge Centre
    The Antaran Knowledge Centre is an open video library for artisan entrepreneurs to learn about concepts related to business, design, communications, social media and marketing. Here, the artisans have access to a repository of information to help them maximise potential from all the opportunities they receive while equipping them with skills for the future.

    What is the business model of Antaran? How does it retail its products?

    Antaran is not a consumer brand or business by itself, but an initiative of Tata Trusts. It focuses on nurturing artisans and facilitates the community with the right set of knowledge and enterprise building skills, enabling them to develop their craft as a business. Comprehensive education curriculum based on design, communication, business and marketing is imparted to artisans. Antaran nurtures artisan entrepreneurs to create their own brands and develop entrepreneurial skills. The initiative has provided a platform nationally and internationally for its artisans to showcase their craft through participation at Fashion Weeks, international trade shows such as Maison et Paris and exhibitions across major metro cities in India.

    The demand from the market and pressure on the industry is on circularity today. What steps have you taken towards this?

    While the world is now actively and consciously paying heed to the concept of a - circular sustainable economy, little do we realise that crafts and the artisan communities are one of its oldest stakeholders. When we look back, crafts were born out of natural materials pertaining to their respective geographies which eventually evolved having deeper cultural and socio-economic meanings attached to them.?

    As an institution working towards strengthening craft ecosystems, Antaran is taking conscious steps for sustainability and circularity by building on the core strength of handloom textiles such as -
    • Promoting and encouraging use of natural fibres, hand-spun yarn and non-toxic eco-friendly or natural dyes, while reviving and reinterpreting the traditional weave designs in these selected clusters for wider markets
    • Focusing on retaining and mobilising young talent in the artisan communities, by imparting design and business education which would enable them to build sustainable micro enterprises for improved income
    • Grooming artisans as individual entrepreneurs and helping them connect directly to markets and eliminating middlemen, thus making their craft remunerative, and ensuring distributive justice across the value chain.

    Published on: 02/07/2021

    DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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