CSR and preserving traditional handicrafts

Through my recent travels in Vietnam and Cambodia and previously in India, a very strong point was brought home to me: encouraging local art & craft is a viable way to improve lives of people. However many craftsman-centered projects are only thought about from a social angle, it is now essential to start thinking about it from a CSR point of view. The fashion industry is now under increasing pressure to become more sustainable. Encouraging local art & craft by the fashion industry is a logical next step towards CSR and sustainability.

In many parts of the world handicrafts include jewellery and fabric, both of which lends itself very well towards creating more sustainable designs in the fashion world. Many artisans and craftsmen are struggling for livelihoods, increase in cheap replicas of the real thing are a real concern for them. The younger generation does not want to train in traditional arts and craft due to the demanding nature of the work as well as the fact that there is not much income to be made.

In many traditional cultures, art & craft form an integral part of life. Sadly, there are also many instances of age-old traditions dying out because there is a distinct lack of encouragement. Kanchipuram, India is a place famous for its silk sarees, but many of the younger generation do not enter the weaving business. This is not only because there is not much money to be made but also because customers opt for the cheaper, machine woven sarees. There are 19 silk co-ops in a dire situation of dying out.

This is a story that is often repeated in many parts of India as well as the world. Many companies like FabIndia, Artisans d'Angkor and Auroville in Pondicherry are making an effort to improve lives of rural artisans by featuring their work. Such a business model not only supports the local community and ensures that traditional art does not die out, it also lends itself naturally to CSR and sustainability.

Many traditionally woven fabric for example, use only hand-woven cloth with vegetable dyes which are eco-friendly. By preserving such traditional methods of weaving and dying, the fashion industry can also learn a lot in producing ecologically minded clothes. CSR initiatives by the bigger fashion labels should include supporting local handicrafts and perhaps also sourcing from them. This would be a welcome sign for the newer generation of artisans as this would signal that a good lifestyle can be had whilst preserving traditional art & craft.

Something for CSR managers of bigger fashion labels to think about.

Photo: Kanchipuram Sarees of Tamil Nadu, India.