Crafting Cultural Sustainability: A Disclosure Of Fashion And Craft

Untitled design - 2023-05-16T130248.919

Despite mainstream conversations on centuries-old craft practices rooted in sustainability, fashion still continues to miss the bigger picture of financial and cultural security. It boils down to the questions about the exploitation of people and natural resources. In our quest to seek answers, we speak with four such community-driven fashion designers who take us through the layered complexities of craft and culture.

Integrated supply chain

It’s imperative for indigenous craftsmanship to warm up to an innovative approach without ever losing its real essence. Designer Anavila Misra, who is known for championing traditional Indian drapes, explains, “The linen sari is a relatively modern concept introduced by us a few years ago. It is handwoven with a foreign yarn. When I am adding this artisanal language and collaborating with craftsmen, so many factors merge–foreign yarn, an Indian handloom, an Indian artisan, and an Indian craft that is contemporized. The end result then becomes a global product.”

For Jaipur-based circular fashion label Iro Iro’s founder Bhaavya Goenka, groundwork on waste management and building equitable partnerships with her artisans form the core ethos. “We incorporate the 400-year-old technique of weaving extra weft from wool, called pattu, to weave from waste. We utilise weaving on four- shaft looms to make blankets called ‘khes’ to make softer textiles.”

Impact on craft clusters

Designers must shed their saviour complexes when forming equal alliances with artisans, sustainable label Ka-Sha’s founder Karishma Shahani Khan feels. Her artisans are based in Kutch, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Kerala and Maharashtra. “The ones working from our studio are salaried as full-time employees. We have provisions for women who work from their homes and are paid per piece. We also offer flexible timings for women and men alike who need to take care of familial responsibilities.” Goenka works with 20 artisans from different villages in Rajasthan and one entrepreneur weaver from Bhuj, Gujarat. They earn an equitable payout of ₹ 1,000 per day for weaving five meters a day. A group of women who segregate wastes spend two to three hours a day, earning around ₹ 300 to ₹ 400 per day.

Misra’s craft clusters are spread across the country, from Phulia and Bardhaman regions in West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Bhuj, to a village near Jaipur. She says, “You need to drive sustainable employment. You can’t work with a cluster for one or two seasons and then move to a new one. We have been consistently working in the same clusters for almost 12 years. We ask our artisans to do the final costing and never bargain over it.”

Jyotika Jhalani is the founder and creative director of Janavi India, known for reviving luxurious cashmere. She points out, “Complex commutes are a big hindrance for local artisans to find spaces where they can work and thrive. Our artisans are based out of their homes, in close proximity to our Noida facility. We also have a unique ‘Janavi Code’ where the artisan’s first design could have their initials stitched into the piece. We are also working on an incentive scheme which would allow each designer to benefit from the number of sales their design garners.”

Pressing challenges

Despite several guidelines being adopted by brands all over the country to honour traditional craft styles, translating them often meets with resistance. Goenka highlights the struggle of aspiration setting, as it still leans towards sameness and not uniqueness. People expect hand-crafted clothes to look the same as the images shown on digital platforms. Another challenge is that the Indian fashion industry lacks critique, and we keep highlighting the bare minimum that misleads clients to fall for cheaper price points.

Shahani Khan shares the sentiment. Everyone is excited to talk about environmental sustainability, but we don’t realise that if people who make the products can’t fend for their families, it is hard for them to understand global warming. Similarly, Misra feels customers have to value the time and effort that goes into making a garment and stop asking questions like how to make craft affordable. Do you expect artisans to work at lower margins and not want to profit from their skillset?’ she asks pointedly.

The way forward

The future then lies in design collaborations and responsible business ideologies. Khan believes the language of craft will keep evolving with time; there will be new interpretations of crafts, and therein lies the beauty of these skills. A research-driven approach to design practice and vice- versa is the need of the hour. Goenka believes that, at present, both exist in their own isolated bubbles, and they need to work in unison to raise awareness of past and future possibilities. Jhalani cares for preservation and says that it is imperative for younger generations to learn from their parents and ancestors to carry the art forward. As her contribution to this ideology, she is working to build a school for the children of the artisans and aims to incentivise teaching by offering independent salaries and the chance to work with other craftsmen over the weekends.

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