The bi-annual Daachi Foundation exhibition, which took place in the city recently, is a cross-breeding of culture and commerce that has, over the years, resulted in a fascinating culmination of artisans who travel from virtually every corner of Pakistan, and entrepreneurs who are looking to promote their businesses, all congregating under one roof to sell their crafts and wares.
Uzma, a frequent shopper at the exhibition, notes, “Most of the items available here could not previously be found in Lahore. The high quality of products, coupled with the broad variety of handicrafts, makes Daachi one never to be missed.”
The Daachi Foundation was set up in 2010 by a group of architects as a non-profit organisation, with the mission statement being, “To guard and promote our cultural heritage, ideology and environment” by sponsoring indigenous craftsmen and young entrepreneurs.
For some artisans, the platform that Daachi provides has proved to be a game-changer. Ghazi Marjan from Swat exhibited his distinctive, carved wooden furniture typically made in the Northern Areas. His participation at the event resulted in a huge boom in his otherwise dormant business, and now he is a regular feature at Daachi.
Amra Khan, who runs Baji Kay Bastay, has exhibited at Daachi six times over. Her motive for running her business, handcrafted bags, and jackets which showcase local materials and prints is not to generate profit but promote the sale of domestically produced goods. “I prefer exhibiting here [at Daachi] because there is a specific clientele that appreciates traditional wares and is seeking something unique,” she tells TNS.
Her participation has helped her source embroideries from Southern Punjab and Balochistan as well as block prints from Sindh through artisans and NGOs she met during the fair.
For the artisans, 20 free stalls are reserved per exhibition for the needy. Besides, workshops are organised to further improve upon their crafts and business acumen, and interest free micro-credit loans are arranged for. “They do so well at the exhibition that they ultimately start to buy their own stalls, though we provide a rebate to make it easier for them,” says Shaheen Amin Khan, one of the founding members of Daachi Foundation.
“We want them to stand on their own feet and have some pride in their work.”
Not all participants have a rosy outlook on the benefits of the exhibition. When I interviewed Abdul Razzaq, an artisan who owns a vegetable dye/block printed fabric business in Matiari, Sindh, he said, “A good artist should never have to pay to exhibit his work.”
He added that though this time around Daachi had sponsored his travel and stay, as well as provided him a stall free of charge, the next time he wants to participate he must bear the expenses.
“Customers loved our output, and wanted to buy from us, but the Daachi organisers told us they’d have to consider their finances for future exhibitions.”
When asked if he would want to return, he responded negatively, pointing out the overwhelming cost, a problem faced by most participants.
Nevertheless, those who can manage to secure a stall often find a wealth of customers and opportunities to grow their business.
Women often flock to the exhibition to stock up on silver jewellery, vegetable dyed and block printed fabrics, pottery, and hand-embroidered attire, difficult to find otherwise in Lahore and that too at one stop. Several local brands such as Generation, BeechTree and Ego are also known to buy material in bulk from the artisans after seeing their work at Daachi.
Moeenuddin, a silver jeweller from Bahawalpur, not only developed a loyal following at the exhibition, but also learned about smartphone applications such as WhatsApp which has allowed him to take orders remotely and deliver to cities beyond his hometown.
For him, the cost of travelling to Daachi and back is worth the returns that have been generated over the years via his participation in the fair.
Not only are artisans from far-flung areas of the country invited to the exhibition, budding artists and entrepreneurs are also given a chance to display their creations such as illustrated stationary, wire jewellery, and hand-painted wooden puppets of famous Pakistani figures, to name a few.
Curio, a brand by Sana Dar and Hira Waseem, was launched at Daachi as an experiment by its founders in 2016. According to the duo, “We didn’t know what to expect as it was our first time, but the response was amazing. We were sold out and received hundreds of orders which encouraged us to continue on. We knew we were doing something right.”
Thanks to Daachi, Curio linked up with vendors and met other business owners with whom they could collaborate in the future.
The pitfall of bringing craftsmen from remote areas to sell their wares to Lahore’s shopaholics is that sometimes customers bulldoze their way into getting prices that suit them, regardless of the willingness of the artisans to sell at that rate. A fellow shopper describes how she witnessed a well-to-do lady forcing a vendor to sell hand-painted flutes for next to nothing by grabbing the items she wanted, tossing the money she thought they deserved at the seller, and walking off, despite his protestations.
Apart from the exhibition, founding member Ayesha Noorani envisioned setting up an Artisans’ Village as a permanent place for all the craftsmen and entrepreneurs to display their goods and earn an income. To this end, she has donated 5 acres of her own land on Raiwind Road.
Shaheen Amin Khan, a board member of Daachi Foundation, says, “Instead of the crafts dying away over time, they now have a platform. We hold these melas (fairs) out of necessity as fundraising events for the Artisan Village, since the government has not supported us and it is difficult to secure sponsors.”
Tickets and a rent fee for the stalls, she explains, generate only about enough money to organise and host these melas.
From the perspective of a shopper, Daachi is one of the few cultural events that take place in Lahore which can be enjoyed by young and old alike. As Tabinda Khan, a regular attendee, pointed out, “The standardised design of large commercial outlets and brands gets boring. Daachi promotes quirky and innovative designs as well as traditional crafts, and it’s always interesting getting to chat with vendors who are displaying their crafts.”
The writer works as an interior designer and can be contacted at [email protected]