Cottage Industries in India

What is the Cottage Industry?

The cottage industry is a small-scale business where the manufacture of goods takes place mostly from home. The workforce consists of family units who typically work part-time with their equipment, using conventional techniques. Products are manufactured at a low level, and the workers are skillful at their job. The business is operated out of a home, and the equipment/tools are generally run on outdated technology. They produce handcrafted products using traditional methods and techniques. Generally, the industry is unorganized and mainly situated in villages/semi-urban areas. Few cottage industries are big and situated in urban areas. The cottage industry is the backbone of the rural economy and has a significant role in developing the world’s economies. It provides a significant contribution to rural development through its employment opportunities on a massive scale. However, the industry faces intense competition from medium- and large-scale businesses in terms of unavailability of skilled labor, capital, technology, and marketing strategies.

Cottage Industry & the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 outbreak across the world has presented with a challenging task for all regions on fighting for normalization on a war footing. Major problems such as unemployment, the inability to run manufacturing facilities, and disrupted supply chains amidst containing the virus are what the cottage industries are confronting today. The present scenario leaves the cottage industry and the entire world with very few prompt solutions as data predicting the outbreak and its behavior across all regions are still in progress and continually changing. The factors stopping the geographies from devising concrete solutions are the inability to predict how long the outbreak will last and the extent of the spread. The strict lockdown measure across all the economies has had overwhelming consequences on industries large or small, and the cottage industry is one of the worst-affected industries. For an industry that has its origin in rural areas, unemployment and underemployment is already prevalent. The industry is not expected to revive soon, and there is a possibility of a demand-supply gap, resulting in a price surge. The governments across all economies need tremendous planning to stabilize the unfortunate economic situation and healthcare in a year or two. Every strike to the economy can be seen as an opportunity. More global demand will arise for essential goods as manufacturing and supply chains have been severely disturbed in some developed regions. More workforce demand will be generated in the service sector for alternative healthcare providers and social workers. Governments need to provide training and proper skill development in this segment, which will provide the much needed shot in the arm for the economy.

How Does the Cottage Industry Work?

The first cottage industries in the world were light manufacturing operations in the United Kingdom, and sub-contracted garment making, shoemaking, sewing, textiles, and metal handicrafts in the United States. Members of the family were responsible for producing finished goods using raw materials distributed by a business manager. Many existing industries that operate in facilities or factories were once cottage industries before the advent of the Industrial Revolution. The majority of customers of the modern cottage industries are those who seek out unique and handcrafted products. The industry also specializes in services that require very few people to run the business. Usually, creative artists who are into pottery, paintings, and sculptures, are a part of the cottage industry as they can undertake the entire production process under a single roof alone or with a few workers. With the growing popularity of e-commerce, several cottage industries are making a comeback. Artisans and creative artists can leverage online websites to sell products ranging from custom woodworking and hand-sewn clothing to crafts. For instance, the U.S.-based e-commerce company Etsy allows vendors to enlist their products — including a wide range of original artisanal items handcrafted by individuals or smaller groups — for sale to a global market. On the other hand, retail company eBay encourages single individuals to make products and sell them independently to a potentially large audience. Although most products are now produced at large, handcrafted products are still viewed as an emblem of higher quality.

History of Cottage Industries

The scattered population of the American colonies resulted in large-scale independent farming and household manufacturing. Previously, textile production was the most common form of a cottage industry. Sheep were raised, and members of family units would spin, knit, and finish the cloth. Some of the other items crafted in homes and later sold in the rural markets were glassware, needles and thread, trinkets, cutlery, fabric, and firearms. An act of the legislature passed as early as 1640 in Massachusetts, United States, supported one of the earliest examples of vocational education in the form of lessons on spinning flax at home. In all likelihood, the roots of manufacturing in the Americas lie in cottage industries. Two-thirds of the textile production in the Americas still happened in homes by 1820, although manufacturing was increasingly shifting from the house to the factory. During industrialization, most cottage industries went from homes to shots to factories, and then all together to factories. Nevertheless, the roots of independence and enterprise have not faded from the Americas, and to operate a business is the American dream. While the cottage industry has probably diminished in the past 100 years, home-based businesses are still thriving well in different forms throughout the century. According to the 1980 census, over 2 million people — constituting 2.5 percent of the nonfarm workforce — worked at home for money.

Cottage Industries in India

The term “cottage industry” is generally used to describe a business operated in small-scale or individual artists. India is one of the many countries known for its large number of conventional cottage industries. But with the arrival of industrialization, many cottage industries have witnessed a steep decline in growth. To revive the cottage industries, the Indian Government has undertaken new strategies to contribute to the country’s economy. India’s overall export of coir products, textile, jute, and handicrafts was valued at over USD 26.56 billion between 2010 and 2011, expanding at a CAGR of 10% over the last five years. India ranks second in the world in the production of textiles after China, whose exports are around seven times higher. The overall export of textiles in India is expected to reach USD 82 billion by 2021, up from USD 39 billion in FY2019. On the other hand, India’s food processing industry stands at USD 67 billion and is expected to reach USD 175 billion by 2025.

Top 5 Cottage Industries in India

The top five cottage industries in the country are the leather industry, cotton weaving, carpet making, metal handicrafts, and silk weaving industries. The leather industry in India meets about 12.9% of the global demand and handles a solid annual production of around 3 billion sq. ft. of leather. The country is a high-quality leather supplier to the global market. The Indian tanning industry employs around 4.42 million people and is regarded as one of the top ten foreign exchange-earners. The states of West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Tamil Nadu are some of India’s major leather producing areas. Cotton weaving is a significant part of India’s cottage industry, dating back to ancient times as it is the widely worn clothing across the country. It is known for its iconic designs and patterns by talented weavers made with their looms. India is one of the largest producers and exporters of cotton yarn. Some of the country’s major cotton-producing states are Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka. The art of carpet making was introduced in India by the great Mogul Emperor Akbar in the 1500s, bringing in Persian weavers along with skilled artists for the sole purpose of producing carpets in his palace. After India achieved Independence in 1947, the commercial manufacturing of carpets had a reawakening. Although the Kashmiri carpets are renowned in the world for their high quality, India also is famous for its coir mats and durries. The carpet-making industry in India is concentrated in Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, and Rajasthan. The Indian Government has set up the Carpet Export Promotion Council for marketing handcrafted rugs and different floor coverings from across India. Metal has always been a key material to the Indian cottage industry used in making jewelry, figurines, and utensils. Metal handicrafts from India have an ethnic touch and are appreciated by people from around the world. The metal industry is a massive contributor to the overall economy in India. Silk weaving is another important cottage industry in the country. India is one of the largest producers and silk users as people prefer wearing silk clothing on special occasions, including weddings and festivals. Some of the well-known types of silk produced in the country are Muga, Eri, Mulberry, and Tassore. Around 70% of the country’s silk weaving industry has its base in Karnataka. In general, the cottage industry is unorganized and operated as small-scale businesses. These businesses are run by individual operators or family members who produce goods by using conventional techniques. These types of businesses originate in the rural areas/small-urban areas where underemployment and unemployment are prevalent. Therefore, cottage industries drive the economy’s growth by employing a large number of remaining workforces of the villages. However, the cottage industry cannot be viewed as a massive producer of goods. It faces massive competition from medium- and large-scale businesses that demand vast capital investment for advanced technologies.

Problems Faced By Cottage Industries in India

The cottage industry is well-known for its huge potential for providing employment. However, in the last few years, employment opportunities may have heightened in this industry, but the income has certainly decreased as the marketers offer low prices to the manufacturers but take high ransom amounts from the buyers. In any case, it not just the dealers and the marketers. The updated foreign policies and globalization also accounts for the present scenario of the cottage industry. The handloom weavers are facing several issues from the power looms. The majority of the workforce in this sector has given their entire life to stitching and knitting, and their expertise is unmatchable. However, at present, they are earning the same amount at which they have started years back. The cottage industry is huge, and it provides employment to a large section of our population. Given that more than 4 million people are associated with the handloom industry, such a situation proves the hardships that these people are experiencing. For that matter of fact, out of the total people associated with this industry, around 47% fall below the poverty line. And according to the new census, the average annual household income of these people is less than USD 1000. Since the size of the family is large among this section of the society, the per capita income is just a little more than nothing. The majority of cottage industries in India face adversities in terms of capital and workforce, which results in them buying capital-saving techniques. Therefore, there is a dire need for the implementation of new strategies that not only drives productivity but also develops new skills and meets the prerequisites of the marketplace. Measures should be taken towards developing new technologies so that people can maintain a decent lifestyle. Moreover, the government should provide subsidiaries for the growth of cottage industries, particularly in the initial phases. The overall workforce of the industry often finds themselves fighting against all the odds at various stages of their business.

Advantages & Disadvantages of the Cottage Industry

Back in the day, an important benefit of the cottage industry was that the majority of the world’s population did not live in urban areas, but rather in rural areas. Small family units were forced to be mostly independent and were responsible for producing the majority of their own food, clothing, and other products. This traditional system enabled family units to survive independently across a vast geographic region. The only urban areas to have existed were far away to reach on a regular basis to buy manufactured supplies or day-to-day items. Since we live in a world where everything is available instantly, most cottage industries have long been replaced by the Industrial Revolution. Centralized production in manufacturing facilities usually produces the same quantity of items at a cheaper cost. In medieval times, an individual could spend far too many days manufacturing a product as they would start with minimal raw materials. A team from the National Science Foundation estimated the energy saved by working from home. The relative consumption of energy at home compared to commuting is around 29 to 1 when driving a private vehicle, 11 to 1 when mass transit is used, and 2 to 1 mass transportation is used. In other words, if 1% of urban transportation is replaced by working at home, it would save around 5.4 million barrels of oil annually. By the late 1800s, textile manufacturing was a large-scale industry. People left the small farming villages to live and work in cities where factory production flourished. Cottage industries were soon forgotten and replaced by industrialization, which would result in a far greater quantity of products at a cheaper cost. However, despite the high manufacturing costs, cottage industries are still booming in many regions across the globe. In the countrysides, the industry offers employment and a means of survival. Even in the well-established countries, there is a growing demand from consumers for handmade artisan goods, including paintings and other art forms, which are usually crafted by cottage industries.


The cottage industry is one of the oldest of all the industries, which is now facing intense competition from medium- and large-scale businesses. Different traditional and indigenous products attract merchants from abroad. Some of the goods are more expensive than large-scale industry goods. In the cottage industry, there are no advertisements and promotional events to market the product. Irrespective of the measures undertaken by government organizations, the industry is likely to face threats from medium- and large-scale businesses. The government should focus on updating the marketing strategies and online promotion as well as provide enough credit, technological support, and infrastructure. A good marketing strategy can increase the demand for a particular product from the cottage industry. In short, cottage industries can accomplish a lot, given the right support and foundation.

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