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From stunning bomkai, kantha and ikat saris to the geometric shapes of an embroidered Toda shawl, from intricately beaded Bhil jewellery to painstaking Dokra metalwork, the artistic riches of India’s Adivasi communities will soon be showcased on Amazon’s global marketplace. The Centre’s Tribal Cooperative Marketing Federation (TRIFED) signed an agreement on Friday to partner with the e-commerce giant’s Global Selling Programme.

“The online market has no geographic borders,” Renuka Singh Saruta, Minister of State for Tribal Affairs, said at an event to mark the accord. “We want to promote India’s tribal communities beyond our own borders and expand their opportunities for a sustainable livelihood,” she added.

These traditional textiles are at the heart of TRIFED’s turnaround over the last two years. “Earlier, the focus was on gift items and assorted handicrafts,” said TRIFED managing director Pravir Krishna. “But with urban Indian fashions increasingly embracing our traditional heritage, the market is much bigger for textiles. There has been a 360 degree change, with textiles making up 80% of our products now,” he said, adding that tribal jewellery was also popular.

The cooperative federation was started in 1987, but for the first two decades, it bought tribal products in bulk from the market and sold them in its retail outlets. “That was a loss-making proposition. Now we empanel tribal artisans and source directly from them. We pay them a 30% profit, and then sell at an additional mark-up of 10-15% to account for administrative costs,” Mr. Krishna explained.

Sevenfold jump

The strategy is paying off, with sales rising sevenfold over the last two years. In 2016-17, TRIFED procured and sold almost Rs. 6 crore worth of tribal products. In 2018-19, procurement shot up to over Rs. 41 crore, while sales was Rs. 35 crore. More satisfying than the sales, however, was the generation of income and livelihood for tribal communities, increasing from less than 2 lakh mandays in 2016-17, to more than 13 lakh last year. The number of empanelled artisans has risen to more than three lakh, from 75,000.

“At the end of the day, our objective is not to grow turnover, but livelihoods for as many tribal people as possible,” said Mr. Krishna. “We hope to double our figures: of sales, procurements and empanelled artisans, every year.”

Getting on Amazon.com is a small part of that strategy, which would also allow pay-per-use access to the e-commerce firm’s U.S. warehouses. Already, TRIFED’s presence on Amazon India since September 2017 has led to annual sales of Rs. 50 lakh on that platform.

Now eyeing the global marketplace, design consultants work with adivasi master craftsman to create contemporary patterns from traditional skills.

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