Srinagar, Dec 21: Indian Institute of Packaging (IIP), Mumbai on Monday conducted a workshop with craft entrepreneurs on customized packaging to boost exports of handicrafts and handloom products from Kashmir.
The workshop was conducted in collaboration with Handicrafts and Handloom Department, Kashmir.
The workshop laid emphasis on standard packaging of various Kashmir-based craft products like Pashmina and Kani Shawls, Papier Mâché, Walnut Wood Carving, Carpets, Sozni, Crewel and Chain-Stitch embroidery for value addition and stimulation of customer interest in the national and international markets.
Director, Ministry of Commerce, Praveen Kumar, Director, IIP Mumbai, Tanweer Alam, Director, Industries, Kashmir, Mahmood Ahmad Shah, Director, Handicrafts & Handloom, Kashmir, Mussarat Islam, Director, IICT, Zubair Ahmad, Director, NIFT, Javed Wani, President, FCIK, Shahid Kamili, besides representatives from PHD Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Kashmir Carpet Cluster Development Organization, exporters and artisans associated with handicrafts sector were present on the occasion.
Ticking presentation and brand promotion are central to the export of hand-made products, Director IIP made a detailed presentation on various aspects of packaging with special focus on standards, specifications and destinations. He also provided detailed insight into innovation and aesthetic value in packaging which shall go a long way in brand building of exquisite hand-made products from Kashmir and also agriculture and horticulture sector to boost global sales. “For compatibility of products in the international markets, aesthetic aspects to stimulate customer interest and safety of product to avoid wear and tear and cost-effectiveness are critical to stylized packaging,” he added.
While providing an overview of the packaging industry, Alam said the global packaging market was valued at $975 billion for 2019-20 with an annual growth rate of 4-5% while Asia alone is predicted to represent over 40% of global demand. He added that the export of packing material from India was to the tune of $843.8 million in 2018-19, witnessing a growth of 14.1%.
Highlighting the importance of packaging in branding of products, Praveen Kumar, in his address, said the business stakeholders are free to approach IIP Mumbai directly or through UT administration for getting customized packaging for their unique range of products. He said the Union Government will impart training on changing trends in fashionable packaging to resource persons who would act as master trainers to provide packaging knowledge to young and upcoming entrepreneurs.
Director Handicrafts said that the department is actively supporting and handholding the craft entrepreneurs to facilitate customized packaging of different materials for various kinds of handicrafts and handloom products. He said the primary objective of the workshop was to acquaint the stockholders with innovative methods of packaging and help improve the marketability of traditional crafts like Kani & Pashmina shawls, Carpets, and Papier Mache products. This, he said will go a long way in enhancing the products’ saleability and appeal, both in domestic and international markets.
President, FCIK, raised the issues faced by the exporters in international markets due to poor packaging and stressed on the standardization of guidelines for packaging of products in handicrafts, agriculture and horticulture sector.
IIP Mumbai is a specialized institution playing a vital role in developing innovative and aesthetic packaging that provides extended shelf-life, better safety standards, specifications and appeal in the targeted markets.
Artisans of this Kashmir craft village battle for survival
Facing financial problems, health issues, Kani Pashmina shawl weavers of Doodkuthu say the back-breaking work has little rewards for them
Farooz Ahmad Lone
Charisharief: Surrounded by deep gorges and slanting meadows, Doodkuthu is a lush green hamlet nestling in the Charisharief Tehsil of central Kashmir’s Budgam district. The mesmerising beauty beholds the eye as soon as one approaches the downhill road to set foot in the village.
However, it is not just the landscape of Doodkuthu that enthrals a visitor, but the people living there have got the golden hands. They toil day and night to create pieces of art, which adorn the rich and famous of the world.
With more than 90% of households associated with handicrafts, the village is a hub for the production of Kashmir’s famous designed pashmina shawls. The young artisans and craftsmen of this beautiful place weave traditional Kani shawls with the help of wooden looms and Kanis (sticks) to make ends meet. Even the school and college-going boys and girls do the craftwork alongside their studies to support their families and own education.
However, the conditions of houses and the living standard of most of the inhabitants suggest that they are not rewarded back for their efforts and hard work. When the artisans of this craft village are asked about the reason, the stark reality of their poor economic condition come out more vividly.
These highly skilled artisans say that despite working for about 12 hours a day, they do not even earn the wages of an unskilled labourer. And that too when their shawls get a good price in local, as well as, international markets.
“It takes two of us more than four months to finish weaving a normal size (42 inches by 81 inches) Kani Pashmina shawl on a loom. For which a Bapari (middleman or trader) pays an amount between Rs 15,000 to Rs 70,000 in a lump sum depending on the size of a shawl and the quality of work,” says 24-year-old artisan Gulzar Ahmad.
“We work about 10-12 hours a day and get only about Rs150 to Rs200 if we divide the amount we receive for a shawl on day to day basis. On the other hand, an unskilled daily labourer, who works for eight hours a day earns Rs 500 minimum.”
Ahmad says even after completing day’s work, artisans cannot take the rest in the evening. They keep loading the pashmina yarn on the Kanis or tujis till they go to bed so that they can have another uninterrupted day of work tomorrow.
In the international market, the price of a regular size cashmere shawl varies depending on the quality of work and size of a shawl besides some other factors. Starting from US$1,200 the price could go up to a whopping $3,500, which equals more than Rs 2.5 lakh in Indian currency.
“But the major chunk of the profit is retained by the middlemen and exporters for whom we work. They provide us with warp and thread, and advance money whenever we need it. In short, we work, and they earn,” says Ahmad.
“So, the insufficient earning and higher basic expenses consequently lead us to fall in the debt trap of Baparis.”
Despite having the facility of artisan credit card (ACC), which provides low-interest loans up to Rs 2 lakh to handicraft and handloom artisans, they prefer to take debt from a Bapari.
A teenage artisan Mohammad Asif says most villagers fear taking credit from the banks even when the interest is low. They think these loans will pile up, as they have observed with some of the people in the village who have earlier availed the facility.
“If you fail to pay back to a bank, the interest gets compounded, and one must have to use all means, even sell his property, to service the debt. But that is not the case with a Bapari. The money borrowed from a Bapari, can be compensated with the work you do for him,” says Asif.
About a quarter of the artisans in Doodkuthu have availed the ACC facility, and a good number of them have already defaulted, adds Asif.
All the artisans in the village are of the view that the back-breaking work is not rewarding. They face financial hardship as well as other issues despite putting in their best efforts.
Fahmeeda Jan (name changed on request), a young woman in her thirties, says: “Comparing to the daily needs, the earning we make is very little. We are unable to provide for our children and other family members with all the required basic needs and facilities in terms of clothing, educational facilities, medicine etc. Not only that, but you can also see the condition of our houses yourselves. We don’t have even sufficient space for all our family members.”
The Kani shawl weaving is taxing both physically and mentally, she adds.
“Besides various physical problems, the work causes mental stress also. Due to the nature of our work, we are confined to a room for long hours. We cannot roam around much like others. We spend all day working but, in the end, we are unable to meet our expenses. This causes anxiety,” says Jan. “As we are skilled in this, we have to do it anyway. And then there any no other options available.”
Apart from the financial problems, health issues is another measure problem faced by the artisans in the village. Headache, backache, eyesight issues, swelling of feet and legs and stress, to count a few, are commonly found among the artisans.
Another artisan from the village, Fayaz Ahmad, chose the profession a decade ago after completing his BA and BEd degrees from Kashmir University when he could not find a government job. He and his three siblings, two brothers and a sister, work on a loom in a dimly lit room on the ground floor of their house.
With eyeglasses on – as almost everyone engaged with the profession wears, the 33-years old stays falcon-focused as he crosses the yarn loaded wooden needles through the 12-micron thin thread spread or warp of Pashmina shawl to avoid a manufacturing error while weaving.
Ahmad says the long hours’ pinpointed focus causes eye strain and eyesight problems. In some cases, he says, one cannot even see distant objects.
Kani shawl weaving needs a highly concentrated mind with a complete focus on the work one is doing. A small mistake of an interchange of a thread colour can ruin the whole design.
“Shawl weaving needs highly skilled craftsmen, for a small mistake can cause cutting of thousands of rupees on Bapari’s part. To weave a shawl, besides being highly skilled, plenty of patience is required. An impatient one can spoil the whole thing no matter how much skilled he may be,” adds Ahmad.
Though, the village has never seen economic prosperity. But the consecutive lockdowns due to the COVID19 pandemic have affected the livelihood of people severely. As the COVID19 spread throughout the globe – particularly in the prosperous West and the Middle East as-well-as within the country, the demand for handicraft exports fell, and the tourism activities in Kashmir stopped. The pandemic has proved a double-edged sword for the artisans and other people associated with Kashmir arts, particularly luxury items like Kani pashmina shawls.
“From the last two years, the demand for handicraft goods in the international markets is down. The frequent lockdowns and travel bans by most countries lead to the fall in exports,” says a shawl exporter and trader, Ishtiyaq Ahmad. “Our stocks have piled up, causing a shortage of money. Nowadays, we (exporters and traders) are surviving wholly on bank loans. The shawl industry is hit badly due to the situation we have been going through since COVID19 caused havoc in the world.”
Ishtiyaq Ahmad says that as the money is not changing hands, even the exporters are unable to provide much help to the artisans.
Visibly cut off from the rest of the world, this far-off Kashmir hamlet is severely hit by the disruption in the global supply chain. The lockdown in an American or a European city or travel ban to a Middle Eastern country has directly impacted the livelihood of a Doodkuthu artisan.
The livelihood of people in Doodkuthu, like many other craft villages of Kashmir, is mainly dependent on handicrafts. In this village of 300 households, about 90% are associated with Kani pashmina shawls making. It is the youngsters of the village who form the majority of the artisans. “About 80% of the artisans are below 30 years of age with about 60:40 ratio of men to women, says Fayaz Ahmad.
Given the small landholding size, the agriculture activities in the village remain confined to subsistence farming of vegetables and paddy. Only few families in the village, who own relatively bigger land plots, are associated with remunerative horticulture activities. While the elders occupied themselves with the farming activities, youngsters had to look for other jobs to sustain their families. Kani shawl weaving was probably the only available option for them.
Fayaz and other artisans say Doodkuthu qualifies to be developed as a model handloom village for Kani Pashmina shawls weaving. However, lament that Handicrafts and Handloom Department has hardly turned its attention towards this craft village.
“Government wears an apathetic attitude toward the village which can be seen through the lack of availability of basic facilities here. The dilapidated roads, lack of healthcare and other facilities you can see for yourself,” says Fayaz Ahmad.
Gulzar pitches in to add that besides the ACCs, the artisans are not aware of any other government scheme, which can benefit them. If any such schemes are available, there must be awareness about them.
“Some of the artisans in the village who cannot afford to buy looms must be provided by the government. We also need to be trained in the new designs, which are relevant in the present-day market,” he says.
For an artisan who does not own a handloom, which costs around Rs 10,000, the returns further diminish as he has to work with another person, who takes a cut from his earnings.
Talking about the Pashmina shawl making process, Gulzar says, after acquiring a handloom, the warp or the thread spread made of the Pashmina yarn extracted out of the Changthhangi goats reared in the cold desert the Ladakh region is dressed to handloom and commenced to weave.
Cashmere Kani shawls are woven using the Kashmiri twill-tapestry technique locally known as Kani Keam (work done by wooden needles).
In this technique, Kani or tujj – eyeless wooden bobbins loaded with yarn of different colours. And a weaver weaves following the ‘Taleem’, a design written and made on sheets of paper, drawn by a person locally called Naquash in Kashmir. The weavers are the craftsmen who bring the design, following the code or Tealeem, into life using the different colour yarn loaded Kanis.
Kani pashmina shawls are woven with different designs, and unlike other shawls, it does not require embroidery work, as the designs are woven on the texture of the shawls, which is the exclusiveness of it.
The centuries-old cashmere shawl making craft dates back to 1300 AD. It has carved out and occupied a unique place in the scrolls of the history of Kashmir itself. In the late 18th century, it made its way to Britain and France, where its use by Queen Victoria and Empress Josephine, wife of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, further popularised it. The cashmere shawl is known beyond the horizon. It has become a toponym for Kashmir- as the word cashmere is derived from Kashmir. Therefore, it has become the Glory of Kashmir.
Pashmina fashion brand Phamb launches mobile app
Srinagar: To boost its online presence and expand its customer base, the leading Kashmir pashmina fashion brand, Phamb, launched a mobile app.
The aim of launching the application for both Android and iOS users is to reach a larger base of tech-savvy people, particularly the young fashion-conscious Gen Z. The Phamb app is available in the lifestyle category on both platforms.
The pashmina house has also come up with an updated user-friendly website.
Managing Director of Phamb, Junaid Shahdhar, said the move was taken keeping into consideration its global young audience as a part of its marketing strategy. The app was launched almost after 4 years of establishing the Phamb pashmina business through the website.
“During internet shutdown in Kashmir, we faced a lot of trouble. The launch of the app which was planned earlier got delayed,” said Junaid. “The app will provide frequent notifications to the interested people about our products.”
Phamb is a technology-driven, manufacturer of pashmina or cashmere wool products operating from Srinagar for the last many years.
Phamb claims to be the first Pashmina seller, which has the in-house testing facility. “Our company is the one and only in Kashmir which deals with the Pashmina directly on a global level, we don’t have any third party involved,” he said.
The success of a mobile application is measured through various forms including downloads, session time, revenue or ratings. Junaid says, “We believe if ratings are good, the app is doing very well in the market, customers are our priority.”
In future, the app will be updated according to the demands of the customers and product enhancement is to be expected.
KVIC distributes Rs 30 cr among 10,800 artisans in J&K: MSME Minstry
Srinagar, Dec 31: To help artisans to sustain their livelihoods, Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) distributed Rs 29.65 crore to Khadi institutions in Jammu and Kashmir during the COVID19 pandemic.
The amount has been disbursed from May 2020 to September 2020 to 84 Khadi institutions in J&K benefitting 10,800 Khadi artisans associated with these institutions, MSME Minstry said in a statement.
The financial assistance has been given under Modified Marketing Development Assistance (MMDA) scheme of KVIC which is directly linked with the production activities. Under this scheme, money is directly transferred into the bank accounts of artisans through DBT.
During the COVID19 lockdown period, a special drive was also launched by KVIC to settle 951 old MMDA claims of J&K Khadi institutions that were related to 2016-17 to 2018-19, pending due to various technical reasons.
KVIC Chairman Vinai Kumar Saxena said through this special drive, the payment of Rs 29.65 crore released to 84 Khadi institutions has directly benefited 10,800 artisan families in J&K which goes on to strengthen the Prime Minister’s dream of making every weaker section “Aatmanirbhar”.
“Apart from ensuring financial assistance through MMDA Scheme to Khadi Institutions and artisans, KVIC also roped in thousands of women artisans working in self-help groups in Jammu, Udhampur, Pulwama, Kupwara and Anantnag in stitching of Khadi face masks. Almost 7 lakh Khadi face masks were stitched by these women artisans and supplied to the J&K Government,” Saxena said.
At present, 103 Khadi Institutions are working in J&K. Of these, 12 are primarily dealing in the production of Kashmir’s globally acclaimed Pashmina Shawls. Over 60% of these shawls are produced in Anantnag, Bandipora, Pulwama, and Kulgam. The products made in J&K have found a large number of consumers in states like Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. These products are being sold through various Khadi India Sale outlets and through KVIC e-portal.
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