This post contrasts two organisations, both supporting traditional Tussar* silk weavers in villages in India. These organisations help organise the village women, train them in weaving better and more efficiently and help them sell the cloth; the training and market linkages offered by the NGO are a key need for the weavers.
[*Tussar Silk, also known as Kosa Silk, is valued for its purity and texture. It is drawn from cocoons especially grown on Arjun, Saja or Sal trees. In India, Tussar silk is mainly produced in the states of Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Orissa, besides Maharashtra, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. Tussar culture is the mainstay for many tribal communities in India.]
The village women typically weave Tussar saris, saris made of a type of silk popular in the Eastern states of the country. Tussar saris are traditionally worn on religious occasions and a few darker colours were preferred during religious ceremonies, hence a large proportion of the weavers’ output used to be in those colours.
Then two market circumstances changed. One, the consumer herself – younger women wore saris less often, and preferred lighter coloured, contemporary patterns to the traditional Tussar designs. Two, rising imports of cheap silk from China made it difficult to sell high-quality hand-woven silk in the domestic market; Chinese imports had the added advantage of being available in lighter colours and a variety of designs too.
Both organisations reacted differently to these circumstances. (Need I add, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness….’)
One chose to stick with what it was good at without changing any feature of the product, in the belief that the current changes were temporary and that there would always be a large enough market for traditional fabrics. As a result, they continue to struggle to sell what they produce and often lament the fecklessness of the modern woman and her slavery to the demands of fashion and design. A classic case of Marketing Myopia.
[Marketing Myopia refers to the short-sightedness that leads companies to focus on their own organisation and product – line rather than on customers’ needs and wants. It leads to reluctance to change, and a failure to adjust to a changing market environment.]
The other organisation chose to fight back creatively rather than bemoan the tough conditions they had to operate under. Within the range of Tussar silk saris offered, they included a lot of colours and patterns in addition to the traditional ones. In response to changing apparel trends, they also added new products to their portfolio – from weavers of saris, they became weavers of saris and silk stoles for women, scarves and silk ties for men.
Needless to say, sales picked up again; apart from sales to government handicraft outlets and at handicraft exhibitions, the company is now a supplier to a large ethnic apparel retail chain too.
A great example of adapting to changing consumer preferences, adding new products and modifying existing products, all the more powerful for having come out of the social development and livelihoods sector.
(Note: This post is based on anecdotes heard during the Sales and Marketing Module of a CREAM training program)