Fashioning the future from the past
(Federation of Handicraft Associations of Nepal - FHAN). Although the sector is tremendously popular, there is still plenty of opportunity to tap into the traditional skillsets of Nepali artisans in far-flung districts, who deserve to shine in the international arena but are constrained by geographical, legal, financial, organizational and other barriers.
Understanding this, the project was designed to enhance the share of rural artisans in the crafts and cultural markets. It focused on the poorest, internally displaced, landless and vulnerable communities. It not only aimed to pilot innovative approaches to strengthen traditional skills, but also lay a foundation to mainstream them into national and global markets through institution building, innovative design and product development, and building market linkages.
“The Nepali community has been fashioning exquisite craft items since time immemorial,” says Vinayak Ghatate, the project’s Task Team Leader, “However, the products are mostly used at home, and rarely adapted for commercial purposes. Our vision was to zero in on these skillsets, create value and pride for them, and fine-tune them for the contemporary market and buyer, ensuring a robust, holistic and systematic value chain.”
A sustainable way of creating value was to organize craftspeople into systematic groups. PAF organized the artisans into 356 producer groups and 13 Producer Federations, and created revolving funds to provide loans at affordable interest rates to artisans for their working capital needs.
To motivate these artisans to incorporate latest innovation and novelties while retaining traditional prowess, the project organized a series of skill and design development workshops in selected clusters, with able partnership support from FHAN and Women Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal (WEAN). The project also partnered with the Asian Heritage Foundation (AHF), an international design house, to introduce design and product concepts that visualize global perspectives with local skills.
The project’s partners conducted extensive research to conceptualize potential design interventions in traditional artisan skills to develop unique and marketable products. This was achieved through skill assessment exercises and refresher trainings to turn semi-skilled artisans into skilled artisans. 35 skill and design development workshops were organized, while more than 700 new prototypes were developed. This was followed by hand-holding workshops to guarantee quality control.
Lalita Limbu from the hilly district of Tehrathum agrees that the workshops transformed her designs at the loom. “Almost everyone in my village weaves the Dhaka cloth, but we only know a couple of patterns. After we took part in the training, we were amazed at just how many designs and patterns we could create. We also learnt firsthand how Dhaka could be mixed and matched with multiple fabrics and incorporated into other products.”
Prem Kumari Pun from Dang nods in agreement. “As a child, I wore clothes made from allo fiber, but now we’re not limited to them – we make shoes, bags, placemats, and products that are considered fashionable and are loved even by trendy customers and foreigners. Our group employs 71 artisans directly and over 300 indirectly. We have stopped all of them from migrating.”
This balance between modern and traditional perfectly outlines the project’s vision. Rajeev Sethi, Chairperson of AHF, reminds, “We should keep in mind that our artisans are the heroes, who deserve all accolades, for showcasing their traditional skills now repositioned for contemporary consumers.”
For long term sustainability, PAF is now working to transform producer groups and federations to cooperatives so that they can be self-reliant and turn into commercial institutions owned and managed by beneficiary members. Focusing on this need of ensuring sustainability, Bigyan Pradhan, Senior Operations Officer, World Bank Nepal, said, “A strong business plan that marries commercial market-oriented thinking with artisan-centric approaches is essential to map the road ahead.”
One South Asia
“For example, a gorgeous Pakistani shawl was modified into a kaftan and embroidered in India, and accessorized with Nepali products,” explains veteran designer Sarita Tuladhar, one of six designers who helped bring the collaboration to fruition.
This co-creation was made possible through constant coordination with JSDF projects in these three countries –Rang in Pakistan and Jiyo in India. As a practical exercise as well as co-create new designs and products together that then made their way to markets in both these countries.
While ‘Hunar Ke Rang 2017’ recently celebrated Pakistani artisanship in Lahore, the next event is scheduled to be the seventh year celebration of Jiyo in Delhi, India.
Photos: Dipesh Ratna Shakya/PAF Nepal and Next Models/PAF Nepal