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Bhutanese Artisans Strive for Local Alternatives, Moving Away from Outsourcing

By Sonam Deki

In a surprising turn of events, Bhutanese artisans have been sending their handcrafted products to India for sewing, raising questions about the need for outsourcing when skilled tailors exist within the country. This decision has sparked a debate among local communities, with concerns focused on keeping money within Bhutan and ensuring the quality of the finished products.

“Why send our handcraft to Jaigoen when we have a significant number of skilled sewers and tailors right here in Bhutan?” questioned Tenzin Dorji, a local artisan from Thimphu. “If we keep the sewing process within our country, it will help circulate money internally and support our economy. Moreover, many people believe that the finishing of a product is better when it’s sewn by Bhutanese artisans themselves.”

The debate surrounding outsourcing has drawn attention from various stakeholders, including artisans and business owners. Proponents of local sewing argue that it would create employment opportunities, boost the domestic economy, and promote the development of indigenous skills.

“We have talented individuals in Bhutan who possess the expertise to sew intricate designs,” said Kuenzang Norbu, owner of a local handicraft store. “By encouraging the sewing of handcrafted products within our borders, we can harness their skills and empower our artisans to excel in their craft. This will not only enhance the quality of the products but also instill a sense of pride in our cultural heritage.”

Sonam Dorji, a 31-year-old tailor based in Thimphu, has voiced his belief in the ability of Bhutanese tailors to deliver superior sewing services. While acknowledging the convenience and cost benefits of purchasing wholesale handcrafted products from Jaigoen, Dorji highlighted the importance of keeping money within the country and expressed confidence in the skills and training of local professionals.

“We receive a limited quantity of products from Handicraft to be sewn, and to meet the demand, we often purchase wholesale handcrafted items from Jaigoen,” Dorji added. “However, given the opportunity, I can assure you that we can deliver equally exceptional results. Bhutanese tailors are well-trained in this profession, and we possess the expertise and craftsmanship to produce high-quality finishes.”

Dorji emphasized the economic advantages of keeping the sewing process within Bhutan. “By promoting local tailoring services, we can ensure that our money stays within the country, supporting our economy and contributing to the well-being of our communities,” he explained. “Additionally, by closely examining the finishing of a product, one can easily discern if it is Bhutanese-made or sourced from India. Our attention to detail and dedication to our craft are evident in the final product.”

Dorji’s statement resonates with other Bhutanese tailors who share his sentiments. They believe that by encouraging the utilization of local sewing services, the country can enhance its self-reliance, boost employment opportunities, and foster economic growth.

“We take great pride in our profession and the skills we have acquired through years of training,” said Nidup Tshomo, another experienced tailor from Thimphu. “When the sewing is done by Bhutanese artisans, there is a distinct level of finesse and authenticity in the finished product. By supporting our local industry, we can nurture our talent pool, preserve our cultural heritage, and contribute to the nation’s progress.”

On the other hand, supporters of outsourcing contended that Jaigoen’s reputation for exceptional sewing should be leveraged to ensure the best possible finish for Bhutanese handcrafted goods.

In addition to faster completion times, Zangmo highlighted the cost advantage offered by Jaigoen’s sewing services. “The cost of outsourcing to Jaigoen is comparatively lower than what we would incur if we relied solely on Bhutanese artisans,” Zangmo stated. “Considering the economic viability of our business, it becomes a practical choice to avail of the cost-effective services available in Jaigoen.”

Chorten, the Executive Director of the Handicraft Association of Bhutan, stated, โ€œThere are two distinct aspects to consider. For high-value, branded, or festive items, the quality is superior in India. However, when it comes to smaller retail products, Bhutan excels in delivering excellent finishing touches. In the past, we used to source wholesale goods from India, but due to the impact of Covid, imports have ceased. The majority of production is now carried out by our local artisans and craftsmen, who have received training in tailoring. Previously, we relied on wholesale imports from India for textile handicrafts such as bags and souvenirs, but now most artisans produce these items themselves.โ€

As Bhutan continues to grapple with the outsourcing dilemma, it remains to be seen how this debate will shape the future of the country’s handicraft industry. Whether the allure of Jaigoen’s expertise will prevail or the drive to keep money within Bhutan will lead to a resurgence of local sewing services, one thing is clear: the fate of Bhutan’s handcrafted products lies in the hands of its people and policymakers.

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