To see my presentation board, click here.
Overall, I got very enthusiastic and encouraging feedback at the mid review on Monday. The main concern people had was that I had not pushed myself far enough in terms of my design proposals. Although they thought my designs were interesting, they felt that I could design more exciting products. What if the bracelets I designed were more contemporary? Some thought that they were still too ethnic and Indian… that I had not moved far enough from what already existed in the bone jewelry industry. One person suggested that I could possibly grind the bones to create powder to use as fertilizer. Although this is an interesting concept, I want to focus more on designing a product- perhaps I could use the waste pieces to make into fertilizer. He mentioned an interesting film about biodynamic farming in India, which I will look into to get an idea of what is currently being done in terms of reusing materials to create a cradle-to-cradle system. Someone else suggested that I use the bone to replace another material that harms the environment significantly, such as plastic- wouldn’t this have more of an impact? Perhaps a car dashboard…? My hesitation with making engineered parts and products like this comes from the fact that I am working with artisans who are skilled at a craft… They work by hand, and each piece is therefore unique. I want to emphasize this, and not design products that need to be exactly the same and that look as though they were made my machines. A main part of my project is the artisan community and their skills, traditions, and past, and I want to highlight this, not change or eliminate it. In terms of this, a critic asked whether it would be more sustainable to maintain the cultural heritage of the artisans or market contemporary products to a different consumer?
In order to push my designs further, people suggested I look at the following: other products made from bone current as well as historical (not necessarily in India), biodynamic farming, pool balls made from ivory (now made of plastic), interior design, furniture, bone inspired products, tagua- a Columbian nut used to replicate ivory, other ivory replacements, what is made with ivory that can and cannot be made with bone, explore the natural aspects of bone such as perforation. Some critics suggested exploring different materials to keep the ivory craft alive, but my concern is not really to keep this craft alive, but to revitalize the current bone craft industry. I guess I was not clear while presenting…!
Another question that came up was why the artisans were not already exploring bone as a material and making the sorts of products that I am proposing. Possible reasons could be that the types of products I am suggesting are very labor intensive, and perhaps the artisans find cladding more economical- they can make more pieces, and therefore earn more. My designs would take very long to make, and so only a few could be made in the same amount of time that say, 4 boxes could be made by cladding bone tiles. But what if I was to market the products in a luxury goods market that would pay a lot more for the work than the current clients are paying- would it then be economical for the artisans? Another reason could be that the artisans do not know what the market wants, so they do not experiment in fear of wasting their time and not making any money. Perhaps it is safer to just produce the designs that the exporters provide them because there is a guaranteed market for those products.
Some people asked specific questions about the artisan communities and the current industry of which I did not have the answer. Such as, how large is the bone artisan community that makes bone products? Where exactly are the located in India? How much does the bone industry make annually? How much resource is available? Where were ivory products originally made in India, and are bone products made in those same areas? What are the skills and strengths of the artisans? I need to find the answers to these questions, and will do so when I am in India this December.
Another concern was how people would perceive bone products. Would people actually want to wear bone on their body? Would they agree to buy products that are made from bones of animal? I got mixed feedback about this. Some said that it was not much different than leather, which was just another part of the animal- and most people wear some form of leather. No one I spoke to was actually opposed to it, but they just wondered how others would perceive it. I feel that this would also depend on the end product… perhaps they would not want to eat or drink from a bone utensil, but wearing it as jewelry or using it for something else would not be a problem. I guess I need to ask around to get more opinions. Closely linked to this issue, was another concern about the fact that ivory, which was once considered a luxury, is now looked down upon as it involved the killing of animals- similarly, how does one perceive bone? How can I make it into a luxury material? What prohibits this application and how can I change it? Most importantly, I have to convey to people that no animal is being killed to make the product. One critic was concerned that if the demand for bone products increased, people may start killing animals for the bones. However, after speaking to some exporters, I learned that there is no shortage of materials- I do need to verify this when I am in India by getting accurate statistics.
I have been marketing my project as 100% sustainable, but one critic brought up the fact that it takes a lot of energy to raise cattle, in this case the buffalo. When grazing, they produce a lot of carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas. I have to analyze this further- the balance between the source of the material and the product’s life cycle- do the negative aspects balance each other out, or do I need to be more careful when I say that I am designing products that are 100% sustainable?
Perhaps due to lack of clarity while presenting, 2-3 critics did not understand how exactly I was benefiting the artisan communities, and how many people would actually benefit from my project. Someone suggested that perhaps my project was more of a business plan… Steven also mentioned this. I need to be clearer when describing the intent of my project and emphasize what exactly I am doing. Perhaps this is a business plan that will result in the production of my designs. This relates to another issue that a critic brought up- if I am providing incentive to the artisans to make products for me by providing them with fair wages and a more challenging product than they are currently making, will current exporters be threatened by me? What barriers might I face in terms of this? Again, I will need to figure this out when I am in India in late December.
In general, I am happy with the feedback I received. I think the overall consensus was that I have an interesting project, but need to find out a lot more information to make it stronger and more exciting.