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Mumbai-Based Shibani Jain Helps Rural Artisans Gain Exposure And Earn More At A Global Level

Usually, a successful career in one’s desired field is enough to satisfy a person, but Shibani Jain left a lucrative career in design to start a platform that provides artisans from different parts of India an opportunity to showcase their work and earn from it. 

After completing a design course from the prestigious National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, Shibani started working as Head of Design at a Tata Group Company where she also got to work with international clients. But she felt that she could do more in her capacity as a designer to make a real difference in the lives of marginalized people. She shares, “I wanted to do something at the grassroots level. I worked for about six years at a Tata Group Company and then left the job. I travelled across different states to explore the arts and crafts of India at the grassroots level as well as to know the condition of artisans from rural areas of India.”

Shibani created a website to showcase artworks of the artisans of rural India as she felt they were poorly represented, but the idea was difficult to sustain. She shares, “I wanted to bring the artworks of artisans of rural India to one platform so that it could be promoted at a much larger level and the artisans could earn more from it. It was a very initial stage of the dot com’s which is why this project struggled to meet the demands of the online space, especially without adequate funding. The website was launched in 2000 and it was functional for about 7-8 years.

But challenges could not deter Shibani, so she conceptualised Baaya Design with the intent of bringing artisanal skills into modern living & interiors. Baaya Design works with copper enamelling from Maharashtra, which Shibani says is like ‘Minakari’ done by using copper sheets. “We also do a lot of brass ‘Dhokra’ work, which is an art form from Chhattisgarh,” said Shibani. 

When asked how Baaya Design works with such artisans, she explained that it was important to communicate in the right way with artisans and build their trust. Artisans are sent detailed visual instructions, colour palettes, etc. in a simple and easy to relate manner. They are encouraged to adapt and further the ideas based on their knowledge and experience. Sometimes artisans come on-site to create their work if required.

Shibani shares that about 100 families of artisans and over 20 craft clusters (10-15 artisans make one cluster) across India’s rural areas are associated with Baaya Design. “They do have skills in art and craft, but they do not have any exposure or a platform to showcase their talent. That is where we came in, and it has been going great. Of course, they need to keep learning new techniques to meet the market demand,” added Shibani. 

Shibani is trying to bring in new international trends into what the artists do in terms of colours and motifs, saying, “While we largely work with copper enamelling, brass crafts, and wood marquetry, we offer a wide variety of crafts from terracotta to wood carving and ceramic work.”

Now, these artisans who struggled to make ends meet, are able to live sustainable livelihoods selling their artworks and also by working on Shibani’s Baaya art projects.

A unique initiative during the Covid-19 pandemic

During the coronavirus pandemic, the whole world came to a sudden halt and nearly every aspect of economic activity was impacted, especially in rural areas. Shibani had a realization that this pandemic could have an alarming consequence on the livelihood of the artisans and their clusters and decided to do something about this.

“I created a WhatsApp group and began adding people I knew belonging to the art and crafts profession. With time, the group grew to more than 500 participants including artisans, master craftsmen, producers, manufacturers, designers, design studios, retailers, e-commerce platforms, NGOs, media houses, craft institutes, design schools, colleges and many others,” shared Shibani.  

This led to the creation of Hand for Handmade (HFH), an initiative that Shibani founded hoping to help the art and handicrafts sector tide over the Covid-19 pandemic and after it as well. The initiative provides cross-selling opportunities, collaborations, access to technical and marketing platforms and any other assistance needed to help artisan communities, designers and members during this pandemic crisis. 

Shibani maintains that in every initiative she participates in, be it her own brand, Baaya Design, the goal was always the same, “To remain dedicated to the cause of ‘handmade’ in India and globally, through design, market, production capability and funding support. It’s been one year now since HFH was created and this purpose is being fulfilled,” Shibani added. 

Apart from this, Shibani has quite a few awards under her belt including Leading Woman in Art & Crafts by IIGlobalBusiness Information in 2015, Most Exceptional Woman in Art and Culture by Business World Magazine in 2020 and Businesswomen of the Year 2021 (Interior Décor & Design) by The CEO Magazine, India.

“It gives me immense satisfaction to do highly creative, challenging work while making a difference to our talented artisans,” says Shibani as she signed off with a smile. 

This story is submitted by Bilal Khan and edited by Alfea Shaikh.

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