Experts at ‘Know Your Weave’ panel discussion push for embracing technology, innovation to promote crafts, rope in younger generation

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Experts at ‘Know Your Weave’ panel discussion push for embracing technology, innovation to promote crafts, rope in younger generation.

 A panel of experts ranging from revered textile entrepreneurs and heritage conservationists to weavers, art curators and hospitality industry captains, discussed how design innovations and embracing technology can help preserve and popularise traditional crafts. To mark the National Handloom Day on August 7, ITC Narmada, a luxury collection property of ITC Hotels, in association with Craft Council of Gujarat (CCG) organised a panel discussion titled, ‘Know Your Weave’ at ITC Narmada, on Sunday.

The National Handloom Day has been observed since 2015 every year on August 7, when the Swadeshi movement was launched.

Ms. Archana Shah, Founder, Bandhej, was the chief guest at the Panel discussion. Mr Keenan McKenzie, General Manager, ITC Narmada, along with Educationist and Heritage and Design Entrepreneur Mr Abhay Mangaldas; Art Curator and Design Educator, Jaai Kakani; Faculty Co-chair of Creative and Cultural Business Programme at IIMA, Mr Anchal Jain, and a weaver from Bhuj, Mr Dayalal Kudecha, were part of the revered panel, which was moderated by Ms Falguni Patel, head – strategy and operations, Ciceroni. The panellists discussed the various facets of preserving heritage textile crafts and popularising them amongst youngsters, in the modern allure of the world of fast fashion.

In her opening remarks, Ms Shilpa Patel, chairperson, CCG, said, “As we embark on this journey of preserving and promoting traditional crafts, we must acknowledge the challenges that lie before us. In this ever changing world, our artisans face competition from mass produced products and the allure of modernity. However, it is important to remember that our crafts are not just products, they’re manifestations of our culture and traditions. To safeguard our crafts legacy, we must embrace innovation and contemporary designs while staying rooted in our traditions. We must strive to reach. Our vision at CCG includes not just a contemporary approach to preserve the art and craft of Gujarat but also encourages active participation from the younger generation.”

During the keynote address, Ms Shah, said, “I am really happy to find a CCG Gujarat chapter. There is an urgent need for advocacy, documentation and product development in the handloom and crafts sector, which is the second biggest employment generator in the country. Most regions in the world have lost their hand skills and our artisans are the only ones that can continue these traditions. We must preserve them by creating textiles that are sought after.  For craft clusters to prosper, it takes long term commitment and orders. There is a need for a dynamic new vision supported by domain expertise and a strong political will. Branding and strong narratives will develop an appreciation and in turn consumers will pay better prices.”

The panel discussed a range of subjects on popularising traditional crafts by embedding them in various processes. Sharing his views on popularising local crafts by hospitality brands, Mr McKenzie, said, “A hotel is constantly engaged in serving and interacting with people from different regions, states, and countries, visiting a place and indeed makes for a powerful first impression. For our patrons, who are not familiar with Ahmedabad and Gujarat, the food, art, and culture showcased at the hotel, are not just conversation starters but subtle interactions they often take back home. Hospitality brands must also associate with such institutions and councils that can curate authentic experiences and craft trails for patrons visiting Gujarat to educate more patrons about crafts, stories of how a society and culture evolved around these art and crafts over generations and contribute towards building an economy around it by popularising them, make them sought-after.”

Experts present at the panel also emphasised on the importance of policy initiatives in supporting crafts. Mr Mangaldas, said, “There is an urgent need for an inflection point in the crafts sector and this can come largely through policy intervention. While institutions like CCG must focus on a greater industry connection of crafts, the government must introduce a policy that subsidises industry which supports and uses crafts in various processes –  be it hospitality or textile businesses or else. A crafts policy must be rolled out by the government that will incentivise entrepreneurs to adopt crafts through tax benefits.”

The panel discussed at length about the need for innovations in the crafts sector and the need for creating an aspirational value in crafts so that they’re popular and relevant to the changing generations. Explaining how this transition took place in the crafts sector, Mr Kudecha said, “Over the years, we have seen technology help our craft evolve. Earlier, we used to make wool shawls but the width was a major issue because of the machinery limitation. In the 1960s, we began producing shawls and fabrics with a larger width and later began making stoles too. As we learnt about the preferences of the younger generation, we began making different kinds of stoles and shawls in cotton, silk and wool weaves. The popularisation of Kala Cotton is a recent example of the evolution of crafts by embracing the needs of modern consumers.”

Echoing a similar view, Mr Jain said, “The beauty of art and culture is that it can be timeless. However, evolution is critical and it is important to stay relevant with the changing times. Technology is certainly a friend of the crafts. The idea is to create an aspirational value of the crafts, make the product desirable to be able to popularise it among the younger generation. Design and technology innovations can go a long way here.”

Ms Jaai also spoke at length about the need for an ecosystem to support crafts and artisans and even bring in opportunities in mainstream education for the younger generation of artisans to acquire the skills and take the tradition forward.

Supporting local crafts and letting the local culture thrive is at the heart of sustainability practices at ITC Narmada which is in line with ITC Hotels’ philosophy of Responsible Luxury. CCG represents the arts, crafts and rich cultural heritage of Gujarat, which aims to make heritage crafts native to the region, more relevant to the youth, while retaining its core essence. It is on a mission to celebrate and safeguard the rich craft heritage of Gujarat by empowering artisans, nurturing their creativity and enabling them to embrace innovation.

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