June 8, 2011

We are partnering with AIACA - Craftmark!

The Green Elephant has now joined hands with AIACA-Craftmark and will represent them as wholesale distributors for products in North America and Canada region! We hope all our buyers and producer groups can benefit from this collaboration just the same :)

For those of you who are not aware of Craftmark, here's a brief profile about their work. 

AIACA is a non profit membership based apex body for the handloom and handicrafts sector in India. Its brand Craftmark accredits authenticity and genuinity of Indian handicrafts. AIACA licenses the Craftmark seal for use by craft-based businesses, cooperatives and NGO’s for use on product tickets and labels. An organization has to meet vigorous certification standards to be granted the seal. Craftmark is a Certification Trademark under registration by the Trademarks Authority.

AIACA assists artisan groups by running capacity building and organizational development programs. Their Enterprise Support Program (ESP) partners with producers to expand and professionalize their operations, assisting them to become more sustainable.

We had a little tête à tête with Craftmark's Market Access Manager Vaishali Thapa, who has been the most patient and a wonderful person to talk to. She travels excessively meeting and working with artisan groups in different parts of India to help them organize, improvise and streamline product development and production.

How many organizations is AIACA-Craftmark currently affiliated with?
VT: Currently we have approximately 90 groups.

How does AIACA-Craftmark provide support to these producer groups? What is its main role? 
VT: The main role of AIACA is to provide direct market linkages to the buyers, facilities like merchandising, packaging, quality check and aggregation of the shipment, including all shipping paperwork. Craftmark only certifies that the product is genuinely handcrafted and authentic in terms of region and process.

How do you hunt for new producer groups--do the groups contact you to be certified or you are involved in looking for new products or groups yourselves?
VT: This happens both ways, either people who have heard about Craftmark approach us or we ourselves go and approach producer groups.

What are the main challenges you face?
VT : The major challenge is to convince the producer group as to why they need to apply for Craftmark, what is the USP as this is a membership based structure and groups don’t want to divulge the income. The other problem starts post they become members, time frame in terms of delivery is a major issue, since most producer groups are located in far flung areas internet access is a problem, we don’t get information on time.

What is the criteria for certification? Is it the same as fair trade?
VT:  AIACA-Craftmark works on the ethics of fair trade and the criteria for certification is that the production process would have a minimum of 30% of the process which is hand done, though in most of our products everything is hand done right from the dyeing to finishing.

There are people who would love to travel to remote places and see how the crafts are actually made, experience their lifestyle, the difficulties they face etc. Have you considered conducting such volunteer based tours or involving volunteers in any other way for that matter? how?
VT: We have done so in the past and do look forward to doing so, as you know ours is a funded organization, the tours were funded by Aid to Artisans then. We would appreciate if you can propose something.

Do you emphasize or promote craftsmen towards eco-friendly methods?
VT: We do have producer groups who follow this as a principle, but this is not a pre requisite for us.

Can you tell us a little about your production site visits?
VT: You can find out more in terms of what we record from the website and download the forms, besides this we document the process with pictures of each and every group that we visit, and document the capacity in terms of no of artisans and products, prices etc.

What is the most exciting aspect of being involved with Craftmark for you?
VT : Well it has to be travel and getting to know that at the end of the day you have managed to contribute even in the smallest manner to the welfare/income of an artist or group of artists. I’ve had a lot of humbling experience to see the odds against which some of the producer groups work and the people involved at the grass root level who help them. We sitting in big cities cannot fathom the kind of dedication required to do such things. I was mostly influenced by the enthusiasm of the women in particular who took time out after a day’s work and created something which is so beautiful.

Is AIACA-Craftmark a recognized fair trade entity in itself? If not, how easy or hard is it to convince people about the authenticity of your brand being a fair trade organization?
VT: AIACA-Craftmark is not a fair trade certification agency, though we follow fair trade practices. Fair trade mostly works on the compliances and we are trying to build compliances into our work.  

And, finally when we ask Vaishali to reflect on this affiliation
VT says : It’s always a pleasure to work with partners who envision this sector as we do, we hope that we can take this relation forward to a whole new level and help as many crafts persons as possible. Till now we have been on the same page regarding most of the ideas and hope this works out for both the parties.

We too are very optimistic about this collaboration and hope together we can make a difference! Craftmark certified products are going to be at The Green Elephant booth no. 842 at the California Gift Show, Kentia Hall July 2011! We hope to see you there!
Image Credits : Gaatha

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