Why Are Traditional Crafts Important?
This week, we have a very special guest writer from our own green team lending her experience and knowledge to tell us more about handicraft and communities. Pallavi Gulati, our Marketing Operations Manager, has always had a strong passion to uplift those who sustain craft especially within India’s more rural locations where they often have stayed true to tradition, creating in the original, by-hand form. Not only does this help sustain them but many organisations are able to benefit these communities in their craft.
This is Pallavi’s green heart story…
Having a father with an armed forces background, I had the opportunity to travel extensively throughout my life and experience different cultures. If you were to walk through my home, you would feel it is a small travelogue filled with handcrafted elements from many different parts of the country. My childhood experiences of diverse art forms have helped me in having a very close relationship with different handcrafted elements. If we travel to different parts of India, we will notice the beautiful handcrafted elements unique to different communities. These beautiful elements never cease to inspire us and help us in experiencing the essence of our country. Each craft carries the strong identity of the community they originated from. For instance, the shawls and scarves from Kashmir carry echoes of craft communities in the beautiful Kashmir valley who are engaged in intricate hand embroideries using nature inspired motifs such as chinar leaves and other exquisite elements from the landscape. Similarly, the puppets from Rajasthan or Jamdani weave from Calcutta carry the culture of the makers. All these elements with distinct identities in a way helps us in documenting the diverse traditional crafts practiced in different parts of our country. They help us understand the history of the people who made them and their significance.
The traditional crafts are a constant reminder of a slow and green life being part of our culture. These values form a core part of our philosophy at Sui. They are reinforced through our engagement with community-based organisations that weave or block print our fabrics and even create intricate embroideries. We really appreciate that these crafts utilise physical strength rather than electricity or any fossil fuel. During my visit to the weavers of Maheshwar, I observed how handloom helps in weaving fabric by moving our hands and feet in a synchronicity. The blocks used in block printing our fabric are hand carved by the carver community in Bagru using different types of instruments. It was also refreshing to see the fabric being dried post-dyeing or printing by being spread on the community ground under the hot sun rather than using an electric dryer. As a result of this the fabric left a lovely residue of the shade in which the fabric was dyed. We really cherish and appreciate such small special moments at Sui.
(Seen here: herbal-dyed fabrics drying in the sun by Bagru Textiles in Jaipur, left, and WomenWeave in Maheshwar, right)
All the techniques involved in making the handcrafted products are slow, green and labour intensive. The beautiful outcomes are unparalleled to the “perfect” machine made goods. One of the most distinguishing features of craft based products is that each item tends to be slightly different from the other irrespective of the same techniques or ingredients. This is because, every hand behind the craft is unique and adds its own identity or soul to it. It is imperative to not confuse these minor irregularities with defects. Rather, these irregularities make each product unique and leaves room for a personal relationship with it to blossom. These imperfections provide space to embrace individuality in a fast paced world where everyone is chasing "perfection". It reminds me of a naturally-dyed indigo shirt I own myself, which is slightly faded and patchy around the sleeves as it is hand-dyed. This surface irregularity makes it different from all the other shirts of the same style on the rack - unique. Even our buyers at Sui really appreciate the value of human touch and the resulting uniqueness of every piece. This helps them have a special relationship with the garment.
When regarding the economy, these crafts have contributed immensely to it by creating job opportunities for artisans. They have helped us in preventing migration, particularly from rural to urban areas in search of job opportunities. The unique crafts and the processes have got the eyeball of artists as well as buyers in different parts of the world. This has led to the opening of international markets for the artisan communities and development of rural tourism. Development, innovation and expansion of this sector is the need of the hours. It would motivate the younger generations to continue the practice of the dyeing crafts.
(Seen here: tight-knit communities at WomenWeave, left, and Bagru Textiles, right)
At Sui, we have been constantly engaged with weavers in Maheshwar for fabric weaving, hand-dyers in Gujarat for natural-dyeing and block printers in Bagru for getting our textiles developed. This helps us in supporting the community as well as sharing our love for the crafts with everyone through our garments. Every time we meet the artisans, we learn more about their craft and lifestyle. This makes the garments and the process really special for the entire team and buyers. Some of our favourite pieces from the current collection where block printing has been used includes our Orchid Garden gilet (seen below on the left), Orchid Garden Patch shirt (seen below in the middle) and Orchid Wrap dress (seen below on the right). All are really flowy, breathable and soothing to the body during the summer season.
Profound lessons of interdependence and collaboration can be learnt from the craft communities. It is incredible how they all work together in harmony to produce a product. For instance, during my last visit to Bagru, Rajasthan, I imbibed that in order to make block printed fabric, people with diverse skill sets come together such as block printers, who are know as “Chippa", do the printing on the fabric, dyers dye the fabric to achieve required colours, the washer community is involved in washing the processed fabric and carvers are responsible for making the blocks. They all support and help each other to achieve a common goal. This feeling of support and family are particularly soothing in our overly competitive and fast world. At Sui, slowing down, being in the moment and appreciating little things are an important part of our sustainability journey. We believe in progressing with the communities we work with. Learning more about their sustainable ways, sharing our experience pertaining to sustainability and moving forward slowly has been a practice deeply ingrained in our philosophy.
Our traditional crafts have different forms and usages. What is common is that there are always beautiful and determined hands behind them. The raw materials are friendly to the earth and the communities. And, they never cease to bring cheer and interesting anecdotes into our busy lives.
It is our responsibility to support and encourage these art forms in our whatever way we can. These communities have been hit harshly by the COVID-19 pandemic and need our support more than ever. Below are a few charities and funds that support craft communities:
1. Dastkar : https://dastkar.org/donation/
2. Women Weave : http://donate.womenweave.org/
3. Khamir : https://fundraisers.giveindia.org/nonprofits/khamir