Mridula Tangirala: A Heart for Craft

tangirala
Mridula Tangirala

Led by Mridula Tangirala, Tata Trusts, India’s oldest philanthropic organization, manages Antaran, an organization aimed at rejuvenating the handloom sector by helping artisan entrepreneurs.

Down Memory Lane

Tangirala, a graduate from the well-known IIM Lucknow and an architect by training, moved from administration to development four years ago. That came after 19 years with the Taj Group.

“My last stint was as head of the Taj Safaris business vertical, which entailed working with a predominantly tribal workforce,” she said. “It went on to win numerous national and international awards. The experience of working with a tribal workforce that consistently won top honors in guest delight motivated me to explore tourism’s role as a transformational force in the remote parts of the country.”

At Antaran, Tangirala addresses crafts and tourism as part of the rural upliftment portfolio. She explores how rural communities can monetize their cultural and natural assets through products and experiences.

Empowering Artisans

Antaran’s mission is to empower weaving communities through structured education and a well-shaped ecosystem.

“We hope to create contemporary products by using traditional techniques for sustainable livelihoods through craft,” Tangirala said. “The encompassing goal is to build artisan-led microenterprises that will sustain traditional craft through innovation while also providing a lucrative career for the next generation. Antaran collaborates with weaving community members via incubation and design centers established for education, enterprise, and ecosystem development.”

The effort is to build access and awareness of national and international market, including holding solo events for participation in craft bazaars, fashion weeks, or international trade shows like Maison et Objet. They are exposed to e-commerce and the use of digital platforms, including Antaran Artisan Connect, Etsy, Gocoop, and Pernia pop shop. Digital and social media intervention, which helped keep the business going during the pandemic, provided them with the know-how to interact with customers through phone, video calls, social media, and product photography.

Tangirala
Artisan Jyotsna Kalita at work (image courtesy of Mridula Tangirala)

Handloom Matters

Antaran works to bring about fundamental improvements in craft, starting with the handloom sector.

“We intend to revitalize this sector and re-energize weavers by utilizing a multi-dimensional approach to technical, design, enterprise, and market development,” Tangirala said. “We strive to enhance craft ecosystems by increasing the core strength of handloom textiles.”

She said that to understand why conserving handlooms is critical, we must recognize that each handloom textile is an outcome of centuries of history, skill, and human interactions.

“A handloom textile is a special product, not a commodity,” Tangirala said. “It is on us to support them and preserve the heritage they carry by promoting their work.”

Overcoming Challenges

The team faced challenges during their intervention with the artisans, many of whom did not have access to smartphones or computers and a stable network connection.

“This learning curve involved developing the linguistics for social interactions on digital media, as well as making online transactions,| Tangirala said. “As … the program went on, the artisans quickly became adept at handling digital payments independently with close guidance from team members. The pandemic made it imperative for them to handle everything digitally, thus accelerating their learning to day-to-today practical usage.”

Seeing the artisans grow into entrepreneurs, their simplicity and their grit was enlightening.

“While this journey has been a huge learning curve, both the perspectives business as well as development sector have slightly different vantage points,” she said. “Businesses must be socially and environmentally responsible, while the social sector must offer sustainable and growth-oriented solutions. Today, it is necessary to build knowledge and appreciation for the complete picture, regardless of where you start.”

A Bright Future

The goal was to test transforming six weaving clusters by establishing entrepreneur-led microenterprises. The program intends to come up with a model to revitalize India’s handloom sector and other crafts through systematic interventions and to make craft practice a viable source of income. Antaran hopes to help artisans deal with changing market conditions, particularly in the digital sector, and so become self-sufficient. Once Antaran evaluates the outcomes of this first phase, it can plan for future interventions.

“We always welcome partnerships with other like-minded organizations in this journey,” Tangirala said. “Watching the artisans strive to build their businesses… in an industry impacted most adversely by the pandemic inspires me to… better aid the Antaran program in reaching new heights.”