Artisans vs Capitalism: The Dawn of Sustainability

India is home to the most diverse culture. With numerous tribal communities, each region has a unique identity. Languages and traditions differ from village to village and state to state. Using art, they share their cultural history and heritage with others. 

Forming the core creative component of the economy, India’s rural communities depend on the handicraft market for their livelihood. Indian themed craft divides itself into five categories—Needle Work, Tribal Crafts, Fibre And Eco-friendly Crafts, Fashion Accessories, and Festal Decorations.

Needlework deals with art that requires a needle for its construction. It is the umbrella term for the textile and handloom industry. The style of weaving, use of colours, and the pattern in each loom vary. Moreover, the traditional weavers intertwine their lives with the designs they create.  The Julahas, Koshta, Ansaris, Salvis, Panikars, Devanga, Padmashali, and the Kashmiri Kanvi communities form the handloom industry’s backbone of India.

Available in every texture, for every decoration and embellishment, the tribal crafts are unimaginably vast. These crafts offer the most intricate and enticing choices that adorn almost every Indian household. From antiques to house décor to woodworks and jewellery, these products reflect the craftsmen’s lives. Mostly dependent on the local ecosystem, each art has a different story to say; each art brings out the artist’s thoughts beautifully. 

The use of locally available materials also paves the way for environmentally friendly products. Handicrafts are an intelligent and efficient use of everyday products, providing income while using the skills accumulated over years of practice.

Fashion accessories complete an outfit and add on an element of the wearer’s personality. India is attributed to be one of the oldest countries to produce jewellery. With its versatility and unique designs, Indian jewellery appeals to everyone around the world. The distinctive black metal pieces with designs of culturally significant elements are the favourite of most jewellery collectors.

Festive Decorations in the form of colourful pottery, wood carvings, and brass works decorate India’s sophisticated homes. Every raw material and technique is unique to each community.  Paintings portray the local folklore and mythological stories. Metal figurines have such intricacies; each carves telling a different tale about the heritage of the country. Ranging from woven bamboo chairs to Himalayan salt lamps, Indian handicrafts enhance our homes and personalities.


Over the past three decades, there has been a significant change in the manufacturing and production of commodities. Capitalism has opened up many markets across Asia and the rest of the world, giving a tough competition to the time–consuming local craftsmen’s traditional works. Moreover, mass-produced goods also cater to the ever-fluctuating consumer demands. This has given rise to an array of problems for the impoverished and marginalised artisans.

Most handicrafts are locally produced—in homes and villages. The intricacy of these products is achieved by meticulous handwork. Highly skilled artisans spend most of their time working on these crafts, making it their primary income source; however, with globalisation and liberalisation, replacing handmade items with cheap machine-made ones.

With the hybridising and copying of handicrafts and labourers’ exploitation, India’s artisans face some severe problems. Corruption and the loss of client–patron privileges forces them to explore the new professional field and alternate survival strategies. With more customers preferring immediate finished goods, the global market overtakes the traditional way of producing such products. Often, one craft is transformed into many unique products to please the changing tastes of customers. The commercialisation of the intricate handicrafts has to lead to them being a ‘global product’, resulting in big companies taking companies gaining control over the market.

Globalisation and capitalism hurt the local market. However, this also provides the Indian handicraft industry with opportunities. If done with careful interventions, the commercialisation of these products could be a blessing for the artists. The present managing method has only seen negative results by degrading the environment and almost providing no sustainability or stability. The developed countries have a clear monopoly over the market, thereby depriving the already poor artisans of their livelihood.


We are consuming more products than the previous generation, and the coming age will consume more than us. There is a constant demand in the market for the newest products of contemporary trends.  Companies compete with each other to introduce the product in the market faster than the rest. In this race, environmental degradation and the required measures to prevent it gets disregarded. This fast-production of products is only possible because of the advancement of technology, which has resulted in a reduced number of workers.

More machines mean more production, which implies lesser prices. It has enhanced the buying capabilities of the people and is most evidently visible in the clothing industry. The constant dropping prices of various clothing items have urged people to buy more than they need. This accumulation of more products poses challenges in their disposal. So now, we have a considerable surplus of a plethora of products with little to no room for their sustainable disposal. 

This is the surface of the problem. Upon digging deeper, we find out that in almost all steps of production right till the delivery of the product at our doorsteps, we exploit the environment to an irrecoverable extent. From the extraction of resources to the packaging of products, we consciously or unconsciously participate in degrading the environment. Then how do we participate in the market as consumers while ensuring that we impact the environment as little as possible? The answer lies in supporting and promoting local and sustainable initiatives.


An industry that has rapidly flourished over the 30 years, Fast Fashion is the fastest way to capture the most recent fashion trends. The affordable and most trendy clothes have found its way into many of our closets. Replicating designs from autumn and spring fashion runways and selling the same for a fraction of the price, retailers like ZARA and H&M have gained dominance over the fashion market. 

This new concept of delivering the latest styles has some severe repercussions on the environment. With wardrobes changing every season, often, 35% goes into waste. Textile waste is a growing concern— most of it being synthetic materials that do not decompose. 57% of the clothes end up being dumped in landfills. Additionally, most synthetic clothes produce microfibers when washed, which affects marine habitats.

The growing influence of western culture in India has given way to retailers setting up numerous stores across the country. The easy availability and affordability have made fast fashion the preferred clothing choice for most consumers. As a result, traditional handloom textile weavers have lost their livelihood.

One of the earliest industries to have blossomed in the country, the textile sector provides the second largest employment opportunities. India is the second-largest exporter of cotton. However, with this comes the industrialisation of traditional methods of handlooms. Today, most handloom communities have shifted to power looms or have entirely changed their professions. Home to diverse styles of handloom techniques, India’s rich heritage shines through authentic weavers’ works. Owing to this, the Indian government has taken up measures to protect the country’s very culture by encouraging handloom experts to pursue their skills.


Capitalism and globalisation have probably affected artisans and local business communities more than anyone else. When we buy our products from big corporations, we give our money to the already immensely wealthy CEOs who might not have our or our community’s goodwill as their priority. Turning towards local initiatives helps not just small entrepreneurs and artisans but also the people.

Supporting local businesses means spending our money on the products made by our local artisans and farmers. They will then channel that money back into the community, thus participating in this chain of regional development. These artisans, farmers, cottage businesses are regular people like us, making products out of their kitchens and workshops. Buying from them gives the market a more humane touch, instead of spending our money on just corporate names, we spend it on actual workers. It also means that our experiences and products will be more personalised and meaningful.

Small scale businesses require less transportation, less infrastructure, and they also produce less waste. They have less strain on the environment and also utilise local resources to the fullest. These initiatives are mostly family-run, relying on traditional methods of production. They use negligible to no amount of chemicals or other harmful components in the manufacturing process. This is the best way to avoid exposing ourselves to dangerous and toxic compounds.

Because of today’s mass production, the interaction between the consumer of the product and its creator has become negligent. When we meet an artist, designer, artisan or even farmer, we have a chance to connect with people who create the services and products we use to make our lives easier. This ensures satisfaction at both ends, the customer as well as the service provider. Moreover, when we interact with artisans and communicate with them about our preferences, it helps them in understanding the market trends and demands better. It gives them space and opportunity to grow and improve their skill set, enabling them to compete efficiently in the global market.

If this isn’t enough for you to start buying from local initiatives, we have compiled a list of various initiatives from across the country to turn your tracts!

  • Sadhna provides alternative incomes for women in Udaipur’s rural, tribal and urban slum belts. It provides its customers with a wide range of products like bangles, bags, home décor, accessories and everyday wear. It helps women artisans who couldn’t move out of their villages, in accessing markets which are out of their communities. Along with providing a platform for earning their livelihood and gaining respect in their families and communities, Sadhna also helps these women in improving their skills through various workshops and training events.
  • Bare necessities aim at a zero-waste approach for manufacturing and delivering their products. One can get personal care products to decorations and gift hampers. The platform also regularly hosts events and workshops to encourage people in practising a zero-waste lifestyle from the comfort of their homes. Their packaging includes reusable jars and labels from recycled labels. They collect all their resources from local farmers and vendors and keep the employment of women as their priority.
  • Neerja supports hundreds of Blue Pottery craftsmen and their families in and around Jaipur and works jointly to create a self-reliant atmosphere in the villages where this craft is still renowned. This initiative is based on building innumerable self-sufficient units right at the place of residence of the artisans itself. The concept was to let the craftsmen live at their own abode and practice farming along with making pottery. The craftsmen still enjoyed their houses and farmland rather than coming to live in a cramped room in the city. It helps the craftspeople to work at their own will and wish, with no pressure of time and money to shed.
  • Phool works towards inventing methods that can convert temple-waste into biodegradable packaging products. They are also continually trying to enhance their impact on empowering their female employees. In the centre of their plan of action is the community, the people who influence it and the Ganges.
  • Bunavat houses a collection of handcrafted textiles, delivered to you directly from the weaver. They travel into weaving communities across India, to curate a collection of yarns which promote sustainable, ethical and timeless fashion. While recognising a weaving cluster, the one factor which tops the list is the authenticity of the weave, cluster and artisan. They work along with the idea of reaching out to those weaving communities which do not have direct access to the market.
  • Araku Coffee is grown in the Araku Valley, in the Eastern Ghats of India. The coffee crop is grown by local farmers in micro-plots and processed by them. The crop office located in Telangana houses several agricultural and coffee experts always working to improve the business as well as the lives of the locals. 

These are some of the suggestions for you to get started on your sustainable and local empowerment journey. As you venture deeper into this eco-friendly practice, you will find different initiatives and artisans which match your tastes and urge you to contribute more to the community and environment!


Written by Lavya Joshi and Archana S for MTTN
Featured Image from Annie Spratt via
Edited by Anushka Shrivastava for MTTN

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