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Direct from Market: India

Optimism Sets Off Vibrant Tone for Indian Sourcing Fair

The India Expo Center & Mart, located just beyond New Delhi in Greater Noida, was the venue for the 32nd Indian

Cane ConceptFinely woven baskets with dyed ikat patterns traditionally used in textiles surround their designer, Jesmina Zeliang of Cane Concept.
Handicrafts and Gifts Fair (IGHF), organized by the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH), and was held October 14-18, 2011. The show boasted 2,300 exporters and manufacturers from 28 States of India and buyers from 32 countries, and is widely reckoned as Asia's largest. The bi-annual fair provides a one-stop sourcing opportunity for international buyers and a marketing forum for leading manufacturers, as well as small and medium entrepreneurs whose access to international markets would otherwise be limited. 2011 marks the 25th anniversary of EPCH's inception – a significant milestone in the Council's mission to establish a global identity for Indian gifts and handicrafts.

Acknowledging the government's support through its various vertically integrated as well as grass-roots initiatives, R.K. Verma, director, EPCH and IGHF, emphasized the Council's role in fostering Technology Upgradation Centers at various regional craft clusters. Further, the incorporation of international designers, educational seminars on world-wide trends and economic incentives for manufacturers and craftsmen, have transformed India's rural, cottage-craft-based handicrafts into a remarkably vibrant industry, and a leading contender in the world's gift, home and accessories markets.

A plethora of products in several categories presented a feast for the eye; from metal ware, glass, marble, wood, wrought-iron and hand-made paper to ceramics and carpets, encompassing

Ashoka ExportsStainless steel bio-alcohol burners featuring fire-retardant “puffs” that burn for up to 4 hours from Ashoka Exports.
furniture and frames to tabletop, garden decor, and textiles. A huge range of boxes, trunks, ottomans and storage accessories in wood, metal and mixed media also caught the eye. There was a special emphasis on green and eco-friendly products, natural fibers like coir, river reed, willow and hessian. Leather, faux leather, textiles – from cotton and velvet to linen and silk – and a host of embellishments ranging from buttons, baubles, trim and embroidery were evident in gifts and home furnishings and accessories.

Claire Woodsum, vice president of merchandising at Foreside Home & Garden, a division of Transpac which sells seasonal and gift items from China, also buys from India, and is well-positioned to distinguish between the two countries. While Chinese manufacturers are competitive, driven by high-tech, high-volume production, she is attracted by India's strengths of "original design, the sheer range of interior decorative accessories, and the innovative, sophisticated finishes that Indian craftsmen and manufacturers offer."

The biggest categories on display were metal ware and glass, including wrought iron crafts and sheet metal goods. A dynamic source for functional kitchen and home products, India now produces a wide range of creative and trendy stainless steel products, combining them with wood, glass, acrylic and other metals. Thar Handicrafts' sheet metal whimsical garden stakes, hooks and fence post toppers in bunny, frog, rooster and other designs with a distinctly anthropomorphic feel were fancifully artistic with hand-painted details. Prayas' hand woven twisted-wire designs in antique and powder-coated finishes were truly creative and bespoke the company's two-years of research and development. Particularly

PrayasPowder-coated wire is twisted and hand-woven by Prayas to give these animal designsa touch of whimsy. Stool and moorha sport hand-tanned and grained tightly-stretched goat-hide.
eye-catching among the various animal, bird and fruit designs were a life-sized - and life-like - layered poodle and a lamb. Indian Village Handicrafts showed metal door knockers – hand-painted then lacquered with some incorporating stenciled lace and stickers. Interesting "footwear" hooks in slipper and sling-back designs and decorative miniature bicycles, tongas and rickshaws rounded out the line.

As Thea Iglehart , senior product manager of Ohio-based direct marketer Grandin Road observed, "What's old is new," attesting to the resurgence of rustic, country themes evidenced in antiqued textiles, "old" furniture, distressed wood, uneven matte finishes, and burnished patinas. Noble Art & Craft House showed wood and metal articles in maritime, rustic and country themes teamed with accents of aluminum, iron and wood, some with a polished nickel finish. Aluminum crates with old-fashioned, riveted pull handles; butcher-block tables with sheet aluminum tops; iron shelving with wood-reinforced corners; a selection of animals with metal heads and carved wooden bodies; a lamp decorated with old Indian faces and old nails sticking up to simulate hair - all evoked considerable interest.

Shruti Impex's sheet metal products were rust-proofed with a unique heat treatment, followed by sandblast washing, then polished and painted. The company's designer, Marcus Wolff, came to India nine years ago to set up a sheet metal unit and has since gained a reputation with his uno chair and novel ideas like old car chassis refashioned into quirky commercial decor. McBoone Naturals, headquartered in The Netherlands, designs and manufactures its unique back-to-nature lamps in India, using mango wood which is then gray or white-washed and teamed with cotton and linen shades.

Sanjeev KahaliA selection of serving trays from Sanjeev Kahali.
The Theme Pavilion featured the northernmost state: Jammu & Kashmir and the Northeast region. New items were willow wicker baskets from Kashmir made from grass that grows in water and shawls and stoles dyed in a horizontal pattern - a departure from the usual vertical dyeing. The Northeast - with over 450 communities in seven states - has received much impetus from the government. On display were products made with water hyacinth, cane, jute, bamboo, horn, bone, and indigenous black clay, along with traditional handlooms and muga and eri silks. With a life of over 100 years (and thus comparable to teak) the regenerative, eco-friendly bamboo has enjoyed a revival in flooring, furniture and innovative home decor. Of the 60-64 known species of bamboo, items fashioned from those native to the region's tropical climes were on display, treated against termites and fungus by being boiled in a solution of copper chrome, borax and salt. Clothes hangers of the hardest kanakaich bamboo from Bamboo Enterprises Limited and intricate lamps for the high-end market from kraftinn were
Indian Village HandicraftsMetal bicycles, tongas and rickshaws from Indian Village Handicrafts hearken back to yesteryear, while the cookbook stand in the foreground can also be used as a plate stand or fireplace accent.
examples of bamboo's functionality and versatility. In an innovative alliance, Cane Concept incorporated the traditional ikat motifs of textiles into beautiful baskets and serving trays.

The fluid and elegant figures in wood, aluminum and iron exhibited in Forms' permanent showroom at the Mart, has earned the company a reputation for artistic expression. Its inspiration originates in the distinctive lost wax casting of the Bastar tribes of Central India. Three dimensional figures are formed of wax, covered with mud and then baked; the heat melts the wax and the resulting cavity is filled with melted brass or other metal to create the figures. Ceramic and bone china products did not lag far behind, judging from the elegant table decor proffered by Object Home and Crafts Villa.

 

Despite some setbacks due to global recessionary market conditions, many fair participants were optimistic because the inherent appeal of Indian handicrafts continues to grow. Thus with India's distinct advantages of labor, raw materials, craftsmanship and design capabilities -- in concert with its continuing focus on infrastructure development, among other things - this augurs well for its gift and handicrafts industry.

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