Indian crafts are known for their traditional appeal. Be it pottery, puppetry, handloom, painting or weaving, each avenue involves deep-seated knowledge and technique handed down to artisans for generations. Sadly, many techniques are now dying a slow death, thanks to industrialisation. What used to be produced by artisans with locally available raw material is now mass-produced in factories, and profit-driven traders have overshadowed hardworking practitioners, threatening generations of skill and wisdom.

But there&’s a silver lining. While the home-grown industry may be experiencing decline, demand for the same is on the rise with many upper-class Indians wanting the traditional to adorn their modern homes. Entrepreneurs see this as a business opportunity and startups are providing artisans an online platform to feature and sell their products while showcasing lost glory.

Spectrahut is one such venture. Husband and wife Ankit and Khushboo Sharma spent four months travelling and researching on Indian art and handicraft before launching their business in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, in September 2013. “The idea was to create opportunities for women and underprivileged artists,” says Khushboo.

Spectrahut was launched with the Terracotta Diwali Collection, which, Ankit says, was a big risk.   “We were apprehensive about starting an online shopping store with terracotta products that are breakable and difficult to transport. We had initially invested Rs.45,000.” The couple recovered approximately 35 per cent of this in less than three months.

Spectrahut works with about 10 award-winning handicraft artisans from across the country and also trains housewives around Meerut to make such traditional products. The online store has a vast range of hand-made artificial jewellery, accessories, home décor products and kitchenware and prices start from as low as Rs.135. Hanging lamps and wooden spice boxes are the bestsellers.

“I love the beautiful gel candles of Spectrahut, especially the scented candles for spa,” says Zeba Khan, a resident of Zakir Bagh in New Delhi.

All products are produced at the artist&’s place, from where purchases are made in bulk. Orders are dispatched after a quality check and the company gets 10-15 orders on an average every day – which can go up to 30-40 during the festive season. “Each artisan we work with earns Rs.12,000-18,000 monthly,” says Ankit. While Spectrahut earned a profit of 25 per cent in its first year, it had a turnover of Rs.5 lakh in 2014.

CraftCanvas in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, is a similar venture. Started by NishaVikram, it sells gifts, accessories, garments, jewellery, kitchenware and home décor items. While the price of accessories and jewellery ranges from Rs 599- 899, Gond paintings and Pattachitra works cost a whopping Rs.4,000-24,000.

What differentiates this initiative from Spectrahut are its customised craft murals. CraftCanvas aims at bridging the gap between the rural producer and urban consumer by taking traditional craft to city residents in the form of installations and decorative wall art.

Spectrahut designs spaces in corporate offices and homes as well as public places and since its inception the company has employed over 200 artisans, on whom at least 60 per cent of the revenue is spent. “Our profit margin is not very high. It is a conscious decision to keep the margin around 10-15 per cent to expand the scope of our work. Customised craft is viewed as a highly elitist industry and we want to change that perception,” Vikram explains.

CraftCanvas works with 20 artisan communities across Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha and Rajasthan, with team members visiting villages to interact and understand their work and experience. They also organise workshops to train artisans on design drawings, colours and other techniques.

Gaatha is another project that promotes Indian art and craft and its e-portal was originally created to research and document Indian crafts that are faced with a decline. Since its formation in 2009, the founders of Gaatha have invested more than Rs.2 crore to develop a portal that serves as an online repository of various Indian craft. Last year, the team expanded work to e-commerce and Gaatha now has a wide inventory ranging from intricate pottery and expensive Pashmina shawls to simple items of daily use like ropes and kitchenware. It works with artisans in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir and Odisha, where it holds sessions in villages to help artisans market their products.

While it is too early to say if the new trend is just a passing fad, artisans are not very confident. “We have been selling locally made products at a reasonable price for nearly 35 years. We have a slim profit margin, but we manage to recover our cost. Online websites sell our products at very high rates,” says Anju Ugrejiya, who sells traditional saris, skirts and bags at Gujarati Lane near Janpath Market in the capital.

Besides, not everyone is a fan of traditional products sold online. “All these fancy websites seem to be minting money. I have bought the same products they sell for less than half the price from artisans in Jodhpur,” says Udyan Biswas, who loves street shopping.

NC Joshi, director of Centre for Cultural Resources and Training, Dwarka, believes that such business ventures do not give local artisans their due. “There have been instances in the past when local artisans have been lured by businessmen who purchase their produce at a cheap rate and then sell the same at exhibitions for lakhs of rupees,” he says.

But some are hopeful. Ruchika Ghosh, chairperson of the National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum, New Delhi, says the Union ministry of textiles is trying to expand the market for local artisans through tie-ups with online shopping stores such as Flipkart. “I am apprehensive, but I hope this new marketing strategy works,” she adds.

— CSE/Down to earth feature service