5 Steps To Doing Business with Artisans in India

Forgive my absence from blogging; I spent most of July and August in India. My goal there was to further develop relationships with our artisans, source and design fabrics for Spring 2015 and bring back pictures and stories to share with our fans, customers and followers. The stories and pictures are coming soon, I promise.

Today, I wanted to share with you 5 steps to doing business with artisans in India. It is a rocky, yet rewarding road when working with individuals from a different country. The culture differences are immense, but when understood correctly, they add character and life to a business.

So begins my list:

  1. Understand their language: This does not mean that I learned Hindi, because Hindi would actually only allow me to speak with one of the artisan groups I work with. India has hundreds of languages. I have learned how to speak what I call- Indian English. Artisan- master hand block maker.

First it is important to understand, what median should be used to best communicate your message. Surprisingly, one of my handloom weavers, who speaks very minimal English, responds best to very short and to the point messages on “What’s Up”- an App for smart phones. It makes me laugh that he lives in a village without electricity at times and no email, but he has a smartphone. 

Then, one must understand their level of English to determine, which words they use to describe things; for example: courier versus shipping. Finally, it is best to keep communication direct and to the point. When something is too complicated, Indians don’t typically say no or that they don’t understand, they just try to do their best to please the customer. 

  1. Understand their process: This is very important for supply chain management and sometimes cannot be fully understood until one has visited the artisans. Learning the process helps to understand REAL lead times, not just what they have quoted. It can also help one appreciate their work. And sometimes, if you understand the labor and materials, that are involved, it can help when it is time to negotiate.

Fair trade workshop- artisan cuts the pattern pieces

  1. Learn about their problems: What is going to hindrance them from getting the job done correctly or on time? Festivals, bad weather and illness are just some of things that can delay deadlines in India. This time when I was in India, I saw first hand how moist air can make the dyes bleed when they are stamped onto the fabric, and I saw how the dyes do not develop properly when it is cloudy.

Fair trade stitcher at a sewing cooperative.

  1. Apply their process to your business: Once you understand how to communicate with your partners, their lead times, their process and their hindrances, then you can apply it to your production calendar. Because my business is fair trade and handmade, I have to work on their schedule, which means planning in a year in advance with long lead times. It takes lots of patience and understanding.
Working with a group of hand block printers.
  1. Communicate the needs of your business: By this point, you should have a relationship with your artisans- you understand them, they understand you and know they need to understand how you operate. Give them your production calendar; tell them how you work best and what you need from them. It is important to express that if “we both work together, I can continue to place orders and we can have a LONG term relationship”. Be committed to the artisans and they will commit to you. Also, don’t give them your real production calendar; adjust the deadlines a bit, knowing that they may be a week off from making those deadlines.


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