Sustainability | Impact

Exploring The Different Trends With Respect To Using Sustainable Materials For The Handmade Industry

Feb 04, 2022 | Apoorvaa Balasundaram

It is clear that existing systems of production and consumption are unsustainable. The accelerating rate of globalization and trade liberalization with the advancement in technology has altered the landscape of public and private sectors globally. Though companies through Corporate Social Responsibility(CSR) are trying to attain sustainability goals in terms of energy or water consumption, it is paramount to shift focus towards the products themselves. Changing these utilization patterns can benefit a lot from Design for Sustainability. It has scope for product efficiency, an increase in market opportunities, and also decreases environmental input.

With purposive consumerism on the rise, sustainability is no longer just a consumer trend but a business imperative. More consumers are shifting their sentiments from mass-produced products to handmade products. According to the study- Yi & Anh (2016) characteristics like a status symbol, uniqueness, quality, creativity, customisation, environment friendliness, artisan and local community support affect a customer's intention to purchase a handmade product.

Fundamental changes must take place in the nature of Design for Sustainability that encompasses the issue of solving consumer needs through sustainability in a systematic and systemic way. The problems of the current scenario will depend on the ability of design professionals and engineers who must have a better understanding of materials to work with that will create newer market opportunities.


Technology has driven humans to switch to machine- manufactured products so much that they have replaced almost everything ranging from clothing and accessories to furniture. Despite the fact that most of these mass-manufactured products are easy to obtain and even economically viable in some cases, it is hard to ignore that companies like luxury brands-Hermes, cosmetics and soaps- Lush and household furniture- Etsy promotes handmade products that are thriving with steady revenue growth.

Handmade products are a role model for sustainability as they are built on traditional skills, sensible use of materials and processes that have lasted for generations. A majority of sustainable development goals declared by the United Nations can be attained by better upliftment of these craftsmen. The handicraft sector plays a crucial role in revenue making and has also been welcomed as a contraption to minimise poverty.

It is important to understand this because it allows us to understand how things are related to their larger system. It enables us to be more instructive about getting more service from less product or materials. As such, artisans and the local community would be able to capitalise due to the availability of better opportunities.

A paradigm shift in consumerism towards handmade products is a compelling point for businesses to observe. As such, there is a need for examining this hypothesis- whether promoting the handmade industry while being sensitive to current trends and which features can be produced in a sustainable way. Although several papers regarding Design for Sustainability exist, there is no study to examine trends with respect to using sustainable materials for the handmade industry.

This blog is an attempt to highlight how we can design by substituting harmful, synthetic materials in a handmade product with materials that are natural and carbon neutral can lead to sustainable development- environmentally, economically and socially.

Handmade Design and Sustainability 

The end of the 20th century marked the beginning of over-consumption of materials and uneconomical products which was caused by their design and manufacturing processes. Design for sustainability gives an opportunity to design products that are holistic, creative, emancipating, and visionary.

The concept of sustainability can be implemented at various stages of the supply chain but it heavily relies on the stakeholders of the entire handicraft sector, mainly craftsmen, suppliers, product designers, and consumers. This sustainable development is only possible when product designers and craftsmen are constantly evolving with the global trends with minimum damage to the environment and consumers are making a conscious effort towards lifestyle attitudes and honouring the significance of handmade products.

Index for Sustainable development coherence

Environmental Efficiency
Economic Efficiency
Social Efficiency

Material and energy 


Material recyclability. 

Product durability. 

Supplier assessment.

Investment in staff 


Ethical investment. 

Expenditure on staff welfare and health.

Income distribution. 

Conservation of skill and culture. 

Satisfaction of social needs.

The Product Design and Material Usage 

According to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), designers and developers can influence the environmental impact of a product by 80%. Hence, there are vital opportunities where the sustainability index of a product can be managed during the design process itself. One such factor that should be considered is material efficiency.

Decreasing the amount of material to be consumed during manufacturing reduces the cost of production and energy. This can be kept in check in the following ways: 

  1. The decreasing number of parts, trims etc. 

  2. Combining things/ parts to increase product efficiency. 

  3. Using the same material in multiple styles.

Creating feasible products that are easy to maintain reduces the need for investing in more products with more resources involved. Designers should keep material durability in mind and create a product that consumers might want to hang on for a long time. Another factor that should be considered is the product life cycle- Can this product be recycled or upcycled in any form at the end of its usage? If yes, is it easily available for consumers to achieve these goals?

Qualitative case comparison of mass furniture manufacturing industry and handmade furniture industry 

This following section deals with the similarities and differences between the mass-producing and handmade furniture industry because furniture is the third largest user of wood resources, behind construction and paper production.

Both sectors have several policies implemented to ensure a certain level of environmental or social sustainability. While most practices and materials used by the handicraft industry are more environmentally sustainable in nature, the mass manufacturing industry has started some sustainability initiatives a few years ago. 

Environment Sustainability practices following by both the sectors

Environmental Dimensions

Mass Manufacturing 

Furniture Industry 


Handmade Furniture 

Industry practices

Air acidification

HAPs (Harmful Air 

Pollutants) produced 

during the manufacture of engineered wood and 

finishing of surfaces are much higher due to greater volume of production.

Most furniture created are made by natural solid wood and traditional practices that do not involve the production of HAPs.


Caused by used solvents and finishing products for maintenance and clean up operations.
The impact produced is much less due to the limited production of products.
Total energy consumed

Substantial mass 

production leads to huge consumption of energy in processing equipment, lighting, compressors and waste collection.

Sparse manufacturing of furniture requires lesser usage of energy.

Carbon Footprint

Inbound logistics and 

procurement of raw 

materials from places that are originally from Canada, USA and other 

Scandinavian Countries while manufacturing units are based in China and other Asian countries, 

owing to cheap labour. Thus increasing overall carbon footprint.

Locally procured raw 

materials lead to a 

reduction in the overall carbon footprint of 


Different Social Sustainability practices following by both the sectors- Supplier Stages 

Social dimensions 

(Suppliers’ stage)

Mass Manufacturing 

Furniture Industry 


Handmade Furniture 

Industry practices


Development of suppliers (according to production requirements) 

Awarding contracts to trusted vendors for 


Local material sourcing.

Procurement from minority enterprises

Procurement from various enterprises registered under Development 

Commissioner (Handicraft) in India.

Child and bonded labour
Prohibition of Child and Forced labour.



Supplier engagement 

Research and Development training. 

Supplier development 

training programs

Only licensed enterprises have some training.

Different Social Sustainability practices following by both the sectors- Operations Stages

Social dimensions 

(Suppliers’ stage)

Mass Manufacturing 

Furniture Industry 


Handmade Furniture 

Industry practices


Development of suppliers (according to production requirements) 

Awarding contracts to trusted vendors for 


Local material sourcing.
Procurement from minority enterprises

Procurement from various enterprises registered under Development Commissioner (Handicraft) in India.
Child and bonded labour
Prohibition of Child and Forced labour.



Supplier engagement

R&D training. 

Supplier development 

training programs

Only licensed enterprises have some training.


Special training for 

employees with functional conduct lessons.

Less than 7- 10 hours 

training for almost 2 years.


At par or above market conditions.
Minimum wage labour.
Human Rights

Adhere to the human rights policy stated by the UN declaration of Human 


Rural Economy and Sustainability 

It has been observed that poor planning has put severe pressure on urban services and forced millions of rural migrants to work for low wages and live in deprived conditions. Thus, it is important to check unplanned migration from rural to urban areas and to improve socio economic conditions of the vast majority of population in the country, there is a need to make the rural economy stronger and create employment opportunities in rural economic activities.

According to the Development Commissioner (India), the handmade industry is economically important since it has low capital investment and a high ratio to value addition. India’s handicraft industry is going to touch $250 billion in the next two years compared to its current value of $150 billion. 

7 million rural people are already engaged in the handicraft sector, which heavily comprises women and people of lower economic backgrounds. Selective adoption of schemes and policies will provide auxiliary income, distribution of workforce, improvement in standard of living and enable them to innovate with the available local resources, thus promoting sustainable development. This will significantly promote social equality and preservation of cultural heritage.

Qualitative Research 

The general objective of this study was to understand the factors that influence customer happiness with respect to consumer products. The data was analysed by the researcher through an online survey with a sample size of 25 respondents. 

The questionnaire is divided into 2 sections. The first section looks at the basic information of the respondents and the second part deals with the questions that influence their frequency of consumer product purchase and the factors affecting it. 

Basic information of the respondents 

Age and gender: These questions were asked to eliminate responders under the age of 21 who didn’t comply with the purpose of this study. Surveys of 2 such respondents were removed.

Basic information of respondents

0- 21
21- 45


Age Range


Influencing factors

The questions in this section deal with the factors that influence their buying behaviour.

Question 1: What are your priorities while purchasing a consumer product?

Customer priorities in consumer products

The result of this question shows that 47.8% of respondents agree to buying consumer products that have a brand value, while 39% of them valued organic and natural products over other factors.#

Question 2: For what factors are you ready to pay the extra price for a consumer product?

Factor of which customers are ready to purchase consumer products with extra money.

The results indicate that factors like product quality, authenticity and artisan community support are of utmost significance to customers over customization and status symbols.

Question 3: How satisfied were you with your purchase of an environmentally friendly product?

Effect of purchase of an environmentally friendly product

The result of this question shows that 8 of the respondents, which constitute 34.8%, agree that they are moderately satisfied by their purchase of a sustainable consumer product . On the other hand, 3 respondents who constitute 21.7% are neither satisfied or dissatisfied by their purchase. 7 (30.4%) out of the 23 respondents are satisfied, while 3 (13%) are very content with their purchase.

Using the formula P ± Zc*SQRT (P*(1-P)/N), N=23, Zc=1.96 (for 95% desired confidence interval)

21.7% of the sample population are neither satisfied or dissatisfied (P=21.7%), therefore between 13.04% and 30.3% of the general population are neither content or satisfied by their consumer product purchase.

78.2% of the sample population agreed (P=78.2%); then between 46.5% and 95.9% of the general population were content with the patronage of sustainable consumer products.

Comparatively, the upper value of the disagreed population (30.3%) is below the lower value of the agreed population (46.5%) which means the factor has a strong influence on customer satisfaction.


In conclusion, we hope this blog has helped you explain the different trends that the handmade industry is facing, with the use of sustainable materials within the industry and how it has impacted it as a whole. 

We hope you enjoyed this blog! In the meantime why not check out this blog on what is sustainable jewellery? 

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