Indian artisans create digital livelihoods under lockdown with Heriot-Watt School of Textiles and Design



COVID-19 Lockdown Impact on Craft Capacity (CLICC) explored digital entrepreneurship opportunities with Indian textile artisans just as disrupted supply chains and social distancing measures threatened current livelihood models for traditional makers.

From the start, CLICC’s purpose was to support the empowerment of previously marginalized makers to become economically resilient by self-generating web content for paying customers. This was paired with the team’s longer standing research interests in finding routes to mitigate the vast global overconsumption of goods, not least in the textiles sector.

Building on long standing research and academic exchange networks within School of Textiles and Design, and support from Edinburgh Business School, the Scottish Team was able to secure a partnership with academics at the prestigious National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad and the Srishti Manipal Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore within a very short timeframe. They were awarded a Global Challenges Research Fund COVID-19 Emergency Grant.

This fast response, and the combined creative thinking power from across the three design institutes, enabled the project to virtually collaborate with remote maker communities and key stakeholders on digital economic opportunities as the developing COVID-19 crisis in India cut off conventional income and communication routes for artisans.

Led in the field by HWU Master exchange Alumna Amisha Bajpai in Ahmedabad as the project’s Research Associate, the project co-created manuals that detail best practice to record craft activity and context video on mobile phones, and as NGO partners rallied to support the project with their networks, translation into over half a dozen vernacular languages were completed to enable crafts communities to explore innovative entrepreneurial potential of their intangible heritage.

The research team, led by Principal Investigator Dr Britta Kalkreuter, has been invited by the UNESCO affiliated World Crafts Council to lead a virtual panel discussion on Cosmopolitan localism in craft as part of a series of webinars organized in conjunction with the British Council. They will share expertise gained from CLICC across the areas of digital technology, craft, entrepreneurship and heritage collaboration which has created insights affecting not just Asia but globally, including Scotland’s rich makers culture. 

Questions of cultural integrity, of authenticity of the digital, of intellectual copyright and of decolonizing design were equally considered by CLICC, and the WCC webinar on Cosmopolitan localism presents an excellent opportunity to advance insights into these areas by debating some key points with an international audience of experts and interested parties.

The WCC International and British Council Craft Seminar Series 2020 is a series of five virtual seminars, with a panel of international speakers. Each seminar will be an opportunity to debate and explore the role of craft in contemporary society. The results of which will inform a ‘plan for the future of craft’ at a day conference in March 2021.

Read the full series programme, including the registration for Britta’s talk on 7 December.

Please get in touch with Britta Kalkreuter for any questions on the WCC seminars or if you wish to collaborate on future research in this area.