Here’s All You Need To Know About The Homegrown Label Chamar Studio
Through his uniquely positioned accessories brand, Sudheer Rajbhar paves the way for activism through fashion
Artist and entrepreneur Sudheer Rajbhar, who founded Chamar Studio in 2017, is setting new standards for social and environmental enterprise. This unique brand and business has been set up to reclaim the dignity of ostracised Dalit and Muslim leather workers, conserve the crafts of the banned beef industry, and create a circular design house using recycled rubber from waste. In an intense conversation, Sudheer introduces us to Chamar Studio and the business.
ELLE: How was Chamar Studio born?
Sudheer Rajbhar (SR): Growing up in the slums of Mumbai, I witnessed caste-based struggles at close quarters. A few years after, in 2020, I graduated in Fine Arts and curated a show titled ‘We Are Here Because You Are There’, giving credit to artist’s assistants from the chamar (leather workers) community. This led to a public art project where I distributed bags with the word ‘chamar’ written on them, across the city to gauge people’s reaction to the casteist slur. I received encouraging feedback and began working closely with artisans from the slums in Dharavi, Mumbai. The beef ban in 2015 jolted the artisans and pushed me to create an alternate material out of recycled rubber for them to work with. And that’s how the brand was created.
What is your approach to sustainability?
SR: Sustainability needs to be holistic and should raise awareness about, and support the artisans, their culture and history. Years of oppression have led the artisans to quantify their art and talent. They come from the mindset that producing more will yield better pay. I am educating them to prioritise quality and demand equitable remuneration.
Tell us about your vision for the Chamar Foundation?
SR: The Foundation works to educate leather workers across the country about alternative materials and create sustainable employment opportunities for them. It’s based out of Bangalore and functions as a great collaborative space for artisans to procure materials and production essentials, and share knowledge. Reclaimed Tote was our first project at the Foundation. It was in collaboration with leading Indian designers who worked with these artisans to create recycled bags.
What are you excited about these days?
SR: I have received recommendations from The Guggenheim Museum, US and grants from the Royal Ontario Museum, Canada. I will soon be working with the latter to build an archive on the history of leather workers and restore the craft heritage for posterity.
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