The project's geographical context is set in Kanyakumari, where where hundreds busy themselves binding and crafting seashells together to make religious souvenirs and figurines .These souvenirs are sold in hundreds of tiny shops that line both sides of the road that leads up to the jetty for ferries to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial out in the Indian Ocean.As part of the brief given to us,we were required co-create solutions for and with aproposed sea shell craft micro enterprises using the convergence of business,strategy, design thinking,technology and capital.In a nutshell the brief was to make new product design,research and propose a viable market for it and propose a sustainable business plan for the artisans micro enterprise.
The project itinerary included a research field visit to kanyakumari to interview the artisan we were working with,understand the market environment and gather, information and insight on the sea shell craft industry.Over these few days I uncovered onto some untold truths behind where the source material (shells) for these souvenirs and mirror frames came from.I discovered first hand the large sale exploitation and killing caused by the industry as a whole .Large processing centres of the size of football grounds responsible for harvesting shells to the tunes of several hundred tonnes a month.These shells are dredged from along the sea beds by fishing fleets or trawlers leaving behind a huge wave of carnage on the sea floor.
Having seen what I had, I decided to craft my own rearticulated brief and put my project on the fringe,discounting the artisan and client. I decided to create a framework for a movement,against the exploitation and mindless destruction of marine life. Identifying Sea Shells as the primary stakeholder I proceeded to work on three parallels namely, articulating a value system/ set of beliefs that an alternative business should have,an awareness campaign to inform consumers and put the story across and lastly to produce alternative shell products, from a eco friendly material , branded and packaged (with a story to tell) for a prospective artisan to make.
The justification for many calls was by being rational about what was important,i.e to stop the use of shells as such rapid exploitation takes far more life out of the sea,that what can be replenished.The goal was to integrate awareness,create an alternative source of livelihood for people while putting the story out there for it to be understood and discussed by people.
If nothing this is a story of how I had to challenge a clients rigid vision and attempt to present to them,and to the world an alternative way out.A part of the proposals for alternative service ,products and the system await funding from I.F.A.D for the next step.It is important however to realize that the proposal asks for a monumental shift in the system,which perhaps is the only way forward.
This project is associated with IFAD(International Fund for Agricultural Development) under the PTSLP(post tsunami sustainable livelihood program)The goal of this programme is to enable the people and victims of the tsunami of 2004 to return to a stabler and productive way of life.The PTSLP program started in 2005 continues to play the role of micro enterprise promoter.The project's geographical context is set in Kanyakumari,Tamil Nadu in India. A beneficiary of the PTSLV program is Sugriya Sea Shell Crafts, run by Sivalingam, a 50 year old shell craft artisan passionately dedicated to his craft for over 12 years. Sugriya Sea Shell crafts is a micro enterprise that creates souvenirs using sea shells.My efforts were initially directed toward analysing the long term sustainability of his business,suggesting alternative uses and products in forms different from the whole,processed shells that go into the making of souvenirs. The Deliverables :
In depth study and evaluation of the current market scenario Develop a range of new products,branding and positioning Evolve a marketing strategy for the craft. Building a profitable micro enterprise for the craft cluster. Generating a sustainable business model and maximizing impact. As I prepared myself to visit kanyakumari,I operated on a hunch that there might be more tothe sourcing of these shells than meets the average tourists eye.I decided to follow back the shells right to their source. I conducted Secondary research on subject matter looking up newspaper articles,a publication on the International Trade in Sea Shells and other internet published literature.Primary Research was conducted with the aid of the following tools :the 5 why 's technique,empathy tools ,day in the life of,fly on the wall,activity analysis and contextual inquiries with important stakeholders :the micro enterprise,local fishermen,retail craft outlets , and tourists.
Having inquired where Mr Sivalingam sourced his shells from ,we learned that most ofKanyakumari's shell supply came not from the beaches or but from the sea.As accounted by afisherman,the fisher folk go about 4-5 kilometres inside the sea with a fleet of about 4 fishing boats and cast nets with heavy stones into the sea. The nets cover an area of roughly 60-70 feet in span. As the stones sink to the bottom of the sea the nets are then dragged along the sea bed capturing all sea creatures living on the sea bed,leaving a path of destruction behind .Every day hundreds of fishermen along the coast cast massive nets into the sea. In warehouses the size of about a football field,heap after heap of shells in all shapes and sizes peppered the warehouse,the stench of dead sea critters in the air customary. The storage /processing area ,an open yard with a thick coat of white shell dust plastered on trees and the ground,seemed like it were straight out of a post apocalyptic fiction novel.All workers it seemed were in a state of mechanized trance, cutting,grinding,etching,cleaning away in metronomic disposition.The supervisor was gracious enough to give us a tour of the place as we followed him through pathways surrounded by mounds of shells on either side. He covered in depth, the processes of converting dirt slime laden living creatures into pretty little skeletons ready to be stored,packaged and shipped,notable highlights being removing dead or alive creatures through acid baths, waxing etc. As I meandered along the long aisles of the storage house,to the ambient rattles of shell being plonked into plastic bags, a sense of disenchantment at its peak,I was lost in a sea of questions at retrospect.I started questioning the very existence of an industry which was responsible for the mindless destruction of a fragile ecosystem on one hand and supported several thousands livelihoods on the other.Another question for me was how does one intervene in an issue which sustains several thousand livelihoods,whose economic reality dictates they engage in craft to put food on the family table. I constructed an argument to support my views on why the shell craft industry was unsustainable,unethical and barely legal. I got in touch with People For Animals and gave an account of what I'd seen. People for Animals also known as PFA is India's largest animal welfare organization.They work to rescue and rehabilitate sick and needy animals. They confirmed only what my own field research had: the fact that the entire operations of shell processing harvesting ,treatment and exports was entirely illegal. The large scale commercial collection of shells in many areas has led to fears that populations may be being depleted and coral reefs damaged during collection.Unfortunately foreign trade statistics do not record tropical shells for the curio trade under a separate tariff heading from those which are dredged or mined for industrial uses. They also do not separate shells collected from the wild from those obtained from shell fish culturing enterprises or from molluscs collected from food.There is little known about a great many of the listed species,the regions of the coast lack in depth studies of shell and marine life population.There are several grey areas in laws ,regulation and policing. Intent :A consumer must be conscious of what he/she consumes.A producer has to be conscious of what he/she consumes.In 2014,as we stand in the face of global warming,climate change and tens of other environmental crisis there is an absolute necessity for any enterprise social or otherwise to fulfil this responsibility and contribute to sustainable practice.That is what must define a business. Rearticulating the brief : With my focus shifted,I identified the sea shells as the only key stakeholder from the intent to stop the use of shells as such rapid exploitation takes far more life out of the sea,that what can be replenished. the Problem ? Bearing in mind massive exploitation/killing of shells and the environment the rate of harvesting clearly exceeds the rate of replenishment of shell life and ecosystems,thereby making shell craft an unsustainable and damaging enterprise. the focus ? To propose substitutes,educate consumers and generate awareness about the ecological hazards of sea shell craft.Integrate values of reuse, up cycling and using less.Make desirable end products to compete with sea shell products in the market.To suggest a viable return friendly alternate business. Ultimate impact ? sea creatures don't get killed for businesses.viable to artisans and appreciated by consumers,appreciated more than normal shells. Movement framework : I realized that the project vision was nearing realms larger than the initial brief given to me almost to the level of a movement. I went about trying to formulate a process behind creating a movement that required publicising the story through a channels of social media, articulating beliefs and intent to an audience through a brand for the movement. The brand would be a symbol of the belief and inspire a call to action for the audience. I devised two brand identities for the movement .The awareness brand named People for Mollusks inspires a call to action by spreading the message across social media and petition networks inviting people to spread the message in order for the opportunities of the cause to be understood and discussed.The second called Svatik,is a brand for handcrafted alternatives to sea shell souvenirs and curios.The intention for Svatik was to carve a business entity to be owned and run by the craftsmen.The business lies under the umbrella of the People for Mollusks brand. It makes desirable end products to compete with sea shell products in the market. It suggests a viable return friendly alternate business for craftsmen to migrate toward should the trade on shells be blanket banned in the years to come. I developed handcrafted glass blown shells as a viable alternative to shell artifacts. I did that by visiting the firozabad glass cluster in Uttar Pradesh, working with skilled lampworking artisans to produce abstractions of sea shell forms.
Why glass ? In my quest to find alternatives I wanted to have a focus on environment friendly material Since silica or sand is one of the most abundant materials on the planet, I wanted the choice of material to reflect the ideal of using greener more sustainable materials for consumption instead of pressurizing a living species that shouldn't be used as a resource at all. What was also important to me was to have a metaphor for the product , to take the property of glass as a fragile,pristine and breakable object requiring care and a safe pair of hands.I wanted to communicate this to consumers,as an analogy for a shell product concluding that here was a shell,equally fragile and requiring equal attention to conserve it.
Larger Impact : This project communicates the story of how sea creatures are brutally evicted from their homes in order to brought into ours. This project provides a starting point to generate discourse about issues that have never before been discussed.It attempts to address the huge grey areas in laws and regulation putting the information out there.It ties in concepts of information awareness, responsible manufacturing,responsible consumption into a business and livelihood fabric. It demands that we as citizens of the earth come together and change the system, take charge and defend our environment.It suggests a pragmatic, sustainable route for the crafts communities to steer away from the sea shells.
We found this to be a powerful story of how a "Let's go and help poor people make nice souvenirs," project was transformed into a quite different approach that took the whole local eco system into account.