Boycott China- Is Indian Design Industry moving towards Self Sufficiency?

The relationship between India and China has always been a bitter-sweet one. On one hand, there was a great reliance and fascination with consumer goods as well as the manufacturing industry on the import from China, on the other, China in most cases, has opposed every Indian move due to its vested interests with our very near-and-dear neighbor.

 Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there has been a significant negative sentiment going on particularly in the building material and furniture industry about the Boycott of Chinese raw materials/ finished goods, a movement that gained immense momentum and support from various quarters post the Galwan Valley standoff at the LAC in Eastern Ladakh between India and China. Now it has moved from the confines of the building material industry and has spread to the other sectors particularly consumer goods at a massive level.

While there is no official data, in 2018-19, furniture imports were estimated at $1.8 billion (around Rs 12,500 crore), out of which more than half came from China.

Not only the state associations but the national associations like CREDAI are openly calling for the boycott of Chinese materials/ goods to real estate developers and the allied industries. In addition, the Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) has also called out for a similar ban. Also, in an open letter, the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) has appealed to Aamir Khan, Deepika Padukone, Katrina Kaif, Virat Kohli, and others to stop endorsing Chinese products.

With the onset of Lockdown four, Prime Minister Sri Narendra Modi spoke about various interventions being provided to boost the economy. One major thing which he stressed upon was being ‘Vocal for Local’ and ‘Aatmnribharta’, which means strengthening our local businesses to the extent that we buy and use only Indian products. Before Lockdown happened, this was a clear knowledge that the interior and architecture industry imports heavily relied on Chinese goods. However, with the outbreak of COVID- 19, a significant part of architecture and design fraternity voiced for the boycott of Chinese goods. The call is made after the COVID-19 Pandemic which has put the world on standstill. So does this boycott means the architecture and design community of India is opting for self reliability? A report by Surfaces Reporter.

Responsibility of China

China forms a significant part of the imported architecture and interior goods be it raw materials, machinery, or finished products particularly furniture. While there is no official data, in 2018-19, furniture imports were estimated at $1.8 billion (around Rs 12,500 crore), out of which more than half came from China. Buyers who source their material from China argue about the vast availability of choices and product ranges in close proximity in Chinese markets while looking for similar products domestically, one has to visit at least four different cities in India. 

Ar Tanuj Desai, Principal, stARCH Design, Vadodra says, “Chinese products are never cheap; it’s a wrong notion.  The major advantage is that you are spoilt for choice with the availability of products in larger quantities at one place.  Procuring similar things from India requires a visit to at least five different metros.”

“Chinese products are never cheap; it’s a wrong notion.  The major advantage is that you are spoilt for choice with the availability of products in larger quantities at one place.  Procuring similar things from India requires a visit to at least five different metros.”- Ar Tanuj Desai, Vadodara

Ar Swapnil Jaggi, Raipur, Chattisgarh says, “I am against importing things from China since last many years. Now, it has become our responsibility to stop importing things not just from China but from other countries as well. 

Ar Shilpi Sonar, Principal Designer, Creations, Raipur, says, “I am supporting the boycott of Chinese goods particularly because I feel that whatever has happened is unfair and We would now like to do something for our nation. 

Architects and designers who are at the forefront of this Boycott movement are claiming that the disease spread due to the inefficiency and lack of transparency by the Chinese government. While it could have been avoided by informing the other countries beforehand, China let the situation go awry in other countries causing the world to shut down.

Sunny Garg, CEO, Creative Director, Raddius says, “Today, India has become a BIG manufacturing hub of furniture of great quality. In fact, the cost of such furniture is often cheaper in India as compared to that in China. 

Ar Swapnil Jaggi, Raipur, Chattisgarh says, “I am against importing things from China since last many years. Now, it has become our responsibility to stop importing things not just from China but from other countries as well. 

Owing to the COVID-19 crisis, we, a group of Architects and Interior Designers, who were frequent consumers of Chinese goods and furniture, have pledged to not procure any furniture from China going forward. We also intend to spread this idea to as many people as we can. It’ll not only safeguard our industry but also be our contribution to ban Chinese products.”

Ar Swapnil Jaggi, Raipur, Chattisgarh says, “I am against importing things from China for the last many years. Now, it has become our responsibility to stop importing things not just from China but from other countries as well. After this pandemic gets over, we should spread awareness to the other importers who are working with China particularly for the goods that can be manufactured in India, should be sourced from India itself. It will strengthen our economy. It’s a big lesson for all of us. We should completely stop trading with China.”

Ar Shilpi Sonar, Principal Designer, Creations, Raipur, says, “I am supporting the boycott of Chinese goods particularly because I feel that whatever has happened is unfair and China is a part of the whole crisis. We would now like to do something for our nation. The entire market is at a standstill and if someone still wants to go abroad and support the foreigners, it is not worth it. It’s time that we designers and architects join together for the upliftment of our own artisans and give them full support in developing their forgotten skills and potential ..MAKE IN INDIA ..be our motto.”

Ar Rahul Jadon,  Principal, Node Lab, Lucknow, says, “I support the boycott of Chinese goods for interior and architecture industry since our economy is already very down and we must support our factories, manufacturing units, start ups etc. For architecture, in civil construction, we always use locally sourced material taking care of the local and national economy. Before the lockdown and the pandemic, I already preferred to use locally sourced material, now it has become a responsibility. I also take care of the source of the imported materials that I use. Even if my distributor is providing it, I check the source and information to make sure it is not coming from China.”

Ar Shilpi Sonar, Principal Designer, Creations, Raipur, says, “I am supporting the boycott of Chinese goods particularly because I feel that whatever has happened is unfair and We would now like to do something for our nation. 

When did it become a movement?

 While during the Lockdown period, there were only scattered voices being heard from the different quarters of the industry, the recent clash with China and the subsequent tension at the LAC has acted as a super catalyst to the already burning fire transforming a small outrage into a full-fledged movement. However, we need to analyse the situation a little deeper. Business with China has so far been a one-sided road with more import and miniscule import. According to a report published in The Hindu, In FY19, 5.1% of India’s exports were destined for China, while only 3% of China’s came to India. Also, 13.7% of India’s imports were from China, while only 0.9% of China’s were from India.

Ar Rahul Jadon,  Principal, Node Lab, Lucknow, says "For architecture, in civil construction, we always use locally sourced material taking care of the local and national economy. Before the lockdown and the pandemic, I already preferred to use locally sourced material, now it has become a responsibility."

People who import goods from Chinas claim that, the quantity and quality (Chinese goods are not cheap), they get in China is really difficult to get in India particularly as there is a lack of supply chain, and understanding among the manufacturers about the nitty grities of the good quality architectural and interior products.

Some architects believe, that this boycott is just a ‘phase’, and those who are claiming to be the flag bearer of the movement, will be the first ones to run to Chinese markets once things get settle down.

Ar Tanuj Desai, stARCH Design, Vadodra says, “People have a very short memory.  Once everything falls back to normal, I feel, the trade from China will resume at its earlier pace.  Those who are rallying against it, I am sure will be the first one to run to the Chinese market when it is all over.”

"Our prime purpose for future professional practice will be towards strengthening our Indian economy. We will certainly give priority to Products designed and manufactured in India over any foreign goods.”- Ar Narain Jariwala, Surat.

Ar Sanjay Agarwal, FRDC, Bengaluru, says, “In these sensitive periods, the market reaction could be very emotional. But one has to be rational as well in business. While some people consider of boycotting China-made goods after things normalise we shall realise that there is no other option to procure the material and goods other than sourcing from China. You cannot create an entire supplychain overnight. For instance, you may stop procuring goods from China and choose a company from another country. However, if that company is also importing from China, then there is no benefit. One must also understand that it will create a larger hole in your pocket. Therefore, we have to think rationally and find good alternatives in India.  However, we come across many issues with domestic vendors, particularly in terms of choice and capacity, which are easily available in China. It was one of the prime reasons why we were importing from China. So instead of opting for the knee and jerk reaction, we must think wisely and prepare ourselves for the next few months.”

Also, Chinese manufacturers are not operating since December. Therefore, it is very hard to source anything from there for a long time to come even when the situation will no longer be this bad.

Ar Narayan Jariwala, Harmony Interiors, Surat says, “While we are not against Chinese products, we have decided not to buy them in near future. We are not boycotting Chinese products but we want to strengthen our Indian market. We would like to support Indian furniture makers and artisans. Our prime purpose for future professional practice will be towards strengthening our Indian economy. We will certainly give priority to Products designed and manufactured in India over any foreign goods.”

“We have to think rationally and find good alternatives in India.  However, we come across many issues with domestic vendors, particularly in terms of choice and capacity, which are easily available in China. It was one of the prime reasons why we were importing from China. So instead of opting for the knee and jerk reaction, we must think wisely and prepare ourselves for the next few months.”- Ar Sanjay Agarwal, Bengaluru.

‘Vocal for Local’ is the new word!

With the call of PM Modi to be ‘Vocal for Local’, architects and designers believe that we can turn this crisis situation into our benefit by strengthening the Indian manufacturers, artisans and retailers by sourcing products from them. They are also voicing for finding novel ways through which the industry will actually benefit from the situation while not stalling the work.

"A designer has to not only design but detail out the materials to be used, how it has to be used and get it executed. I strongly believe that unless and until it is absolutely mandatory for a designer to bring in a readymade item and use it in the layout, we must refrain from using readymade imported furniture." - Ar Bankim Dave

Ar Bankim Dave, Surat, says, “As a designer, I always believe that it’s our job to get things designed and executed. Preparing a layout is easy.  While designing interior spaces, if leaving some empty space a part of design then, designing an item like furniture is alike. Designing a layout and then sourcing a furniture piece from the market means that we are losing on detailing. A designer has to not only design but detail out the materials to be used, how it has to be used, and get it executed. I strongly believe that unless and until it is absolutely mandatory for a designer to bring in a readymade item and use it in the layout, we must refrain from using readymade furniture.  Therefore, not in terms of any particular market, but I feel that a designer should never source a readymade furniture item.” 

Ar Prashant Sutaria, Principal Architect, CELPT, Mumbai, “In today's globalized world, we cannot boycott a country as it will set a wrong trend. However I wish to put it in this way, we want to enhance our self-reliance. This is a politically correct way to support our argument of boycotting Chinese material. I want India to be self-reliant in as many industries as possible, is a positive sentiment. It is also professionally more ethical. We must set a positive tone as the impact of both statements is going to be the same. The route we take has to be more balanced, rational, and from a global perspective.”

Ar, Shibu Aboosali, Principal Architect, SAA, Kerala, says, “This matter needs to be handled with a broader perspective. So, it is just that we need to support each other at this hard time. This pandemic has erased the identity of borders and has affected almost all countries and the whole of humanity. This situation has given us a strong message; to respect Mother Earth, nature, and live a lifestyle that respects all the fellow beings too.  'Everything and everyone is interdependent' and we need to maintain that balance."

So can we be ‘Vocal for local’? SR believes that it is very much possible; all we need to understand is to adapt to the current scenario and increase our capacities to gain higher production ability, a situation where China always wins over. The government is already providing a boost to the economy in the form of non-collateral loans etc, which will surely play in the industry’s favour. However, we are still at the stage of wait and watch and see how the future will unfold.

Also read: CAIT calls upon top industrialists to join Boycott China campaign

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