Sustainability and Handicrafts

To watch the slow death of a form of art and craft; that requires impeccable skill and knowledge, patience, and support; is truly a tragedy. That is precisely what is happening to the artisan’s community and the handicrafts industry and market. Big corporations have tried to disguise their exploitations with the cover of exclusivity and limited access. This came in the form of little to no benefit to the artisans. 

A true tragedy, as to how Bangladesh has failed artisans and the handicrafts industry, from the lack of sustainability module creation and maintenance. 

Few Case Studies in Handicrafts Industry

We have compiled a few case studies on artisans and their craft from interview sources.  Gitesh Chandra Das, a renowned artisan from Mokambazar, Moulvibazar, Sylhet, is well known for his sheetal pati, a unique green cane floor covering known as the murta gach.

He gave the statement: 

“The pandemic has ruined everything for us. The little business that we had before the virus hit was also disrupted and today, we really don’t know how to carry forward with our trade,” 

 

He added, 

“A single piece of sheetal pati takes at least 15-20 days to make and I am talking about the simple designs. An exclusive piece usually takes more than two months to make. We do not even get Tk 2000 for our hard work. People nowadays seem to be disinterested in buying traditional items in general. In addition to that, the showrooms were closed and all kinds of gatherings such as the seasonal fairs (melas) were put on hold, so where would we get any customers?” 

 

Shushanta Kumar Pal is a shokher hari (decorative clay pots) artisan from Bashantapur, Bagdhani, Rajshahi.

He stated, 

“The pandemic made it clear that the future for traditional crafts is quite bleak. People used shokher hari as a daily requirement in the past; they used these on special occasions and also their everyday lives. Today, they do not even want to use it as rare, decorative material. Our citizens are more attracted to foreign goods, plastic and machine-made items. They do not have the time to appreciate the prestige and exquisiteness of hand-crafted goods and the legacy it holds,”

He also added, 

“Once upon a time, in the Rajshahi division alone, there were around 4500 shokher hari craftsmen. Today, there is only me, and with my passing, there will be no one taking the heritage trade forward. Things that the Arts Department students make in Dhaka are completely different from how we make it here. Their ones are more design-based, ours are more nature-inspired. Our chach (pottery wheel) is also different. Our special haris (pots) cannot be made on their pottery wheels. So, if this craft must go on, then this is about the right time to train the younger generation on our traditional techniques. And I cannot do this alone, or by myself; I need help from private or governmental organizations to come forward and help me in saving our craftsmanship – our pal legacy.”

Sustainability and Handicrafts 

In the dire state of the current work in this post-pandemic era, understanding and accepting the grand & tragic event, and then working on solutions that will build a strong ecosystem, is what the grit and work are all about. We must strive for sustainability. 

We have almost all heard of or know of sustainability. We know the primary definition of what is meant. But how does it relate to the handicrafts industry or the handicrafts artisans? 

Bangladesh is primarily an agriculture-based country. Hence, we have an abundance of opportunities to be sustainable. Handicrafts require a lot of products to be made out of agricultural materials. The resources are present but the regulation and industrial focus has been put elsewhere. Karigor focuses on bringing sustainability to how handicrafts material are ingested into the production process, as well as waste management and recycling. 

There may be some way to clue you in about how that can be achieved: 

  • Buying raw materials at a just price, from trusted and verified sellers who will only provide good quality raw material or primary products. 
  • Providing the artisans with adequate raw materials needed for the craft. 
  • Ensure the renewability of resources and recyclability of the final products.
  • Experiments were done by artisans to help reduce waste.
  • Ensuring the longevity of final products.
  • The equipment and other inputs used in the production process must have a minimal carbon footprint. 
  • Make sure of the fact that the products have a good shelf life, and the ways to preserve them are green. 
  • Connect to vendors who hold similar views regarding handicrafts and the entirety of sustainable product development. 
  • Conduct surveys and campaigns to promote sustainable handicraft products. 
  • Promote sustainable handicraft products to the general public. 

What ultimately matters is to achieve the stepping stones and keep the ultimate goal in mind at all times, sticking to the principles and following through. The protection, preservation, and restoration of the handicrafts industry and the lives of honorable artisans, must be the motto at all times. Hopefully, Karigor will be able to help throughout the entire process and build a great ecosystem that focuses on artisans and the handicrafts industry. 

 

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