Direct Create is a unique collaborative platform to take Indian handicrafts and design to the world stage. Altogether, 2,500 craftsmen and 800 designers are registered on the platform
Sheela Lunkad was the CEO and MD of Desert Artisan Handicrafts Jaipur, a subsidiary of Fab India, which she built from scratch and turned into a huge profit centre.
India is known for its fine handcrafted goods. The skills that artisans in India possess are unmatched but these skills will survive only if these enable the weavers and artisans to earn a decent income. “The reality is that the priceless handcrafted artifacts made by these artisans are actually sourced from them at not even a fraction of the price at which these are sold at in big showrooms,” says Sheela Lunkad, co-founder of Direct Create, a digital creative platform connecting local artisans to a global network of designers and buyers to collaborate and co-create handcrafted products.
Direct Create is the brainchild of husband and wife architect duo Rajeev Lunkad and Sheela Lunkad. The two had made a mark early in their careers as architects. Rajeev Lunkad had been involved in the restoration of Jal Mahal in Jaipur and other marquee properties. Sheela Lunkad was the CEO and MD of Desert Artisan Handicrafts Jaipur, a subsidiary of Fab India, which she built from scratch and turned into a huge profit centre.
During the past four years, Direct Create has done multiple projects. This online-to-offline platform had initially secured funding from Rajasthan Venture Capital Fund (RVCF). Currently the platform has a network of 15,000 makers with 2,500 craftsmen and 800 designers registered. Direct Create plans to increase this number to 15,000 and 3,000 respectively in a year’s time.
According to Sheela Lunkad, Direct Create bridges the gap between tradition and innovation to define a new collaborative future for sustainable crafts. Talking about the problems facing the Indian artisan community, she says that the craftsmen know they are being shortchanged by these so-called agents but since these are the only people who reach out to them in the absence of an organised buyers’ market they have no option but to agree to their terms and conditions.
The impact of this limited buyers’ circle does not stop here, since these products are sold only at high-end showrooms at astronomically high prices, only a few well-heeled customers are the end-customers. This leads to shrinkage of the market, thus hurting the artisans further.
“If the craftsmen could directly access the market and sell his crafted pieces it would not only mean that he would get a higher share of the profits but the products would be accessible to a wider audience. With the digital age moving into every aspect of our lives it is time that the tools of technology are given into the hands of the maker and artisan to craft their own destiny,” adds Sheela Lunkad.
Put simply, the need of the hour is to connect buyers and artisans on a single platform. But then there were several other issues, the prime issue being product designing. The artisans had been churning out the same products and styles without realising changing market aspirations. With no upgradation, the essential modern design skill was missing and “internationally the products they were making were considered run-of-the-mill,” quips Sheela Lunkad, who learnt about this at an exhibition in Milan where international buyers did not show much interest in handicrafts as the design element was missing. “So connecting designers directly with artisans was required and we enabled this on our platform Direct Create,” says Rajeev Lunkad.
This connecting of makers and designers on Direct Create has served multiple purposes as the handicrafts now could have necessary modern design elements and designers could directly work with artisans at an organised level. This opened up a factory of talent for designers who otherwise worked with only a few weavers or artisans. “The present times require collaboration and the platform does offer this opportunity,” adds Rajeev. Further, this allows integration of different elements. For instance, wood may be sourced from Kerala, the naqqashi (designing) done from Rajasthan and polishing done in UP.
Direct Create is thus a collaborative platform which brings artisans, buyers (both B2B and B2C) and designers together, enabling a world of opportunity for each other. The digital format works on registration basis for designers. Designers can register themselves for a one-time nominal fee and put up their designs on the platform. If the design is used, they earn a fee which they can mention in the listing. They can also reach out to artisans on the platform to make products against bulk orders received from clients.
The platform also has a product section showcasing products sourced from artisans. These are marked up by 10-15% with the artisan’s details mentioned to add authenticity to the product. Sales proceeds are directly transferred to the artisan’s account. B2B buyers who would like to place bulk orders and collaborate are required to register for a normal fee to gain access to the artisans.
They benefit in terms of prices as well as having the backup of an organised set-up. For B2C buyers, there is a small fee and a small mark-up on the product sourced from the maker.
The Direct Create co-founders believe that technology will give rise to a truly global creative economy: designers and makers collaborating to create new trends; multinational brands partnering with small local producers; buyers seeking opportunities to make a positive impact. “Our digital platform —available online and via mobile app—connects these communities like never before,” they say.