The business of fashion differs in many aspects from that of craft. For sustainable collaborations between actors from the two spheres, a mediation process is necessary. In the search for sustainable environmental and social solutions in the textile and fashion production industry stakeholders are increasingly focusing on local and ethical sourcing. Traditional textile craftsmanship is a living example of slow-paced, resource mindful, and socially sustainable production.
The rich and diverse creative traditions of Kachchh live at the intersection of cultures and communities. Once a destination by land and sea for people from Africa, the Middle East, and the Swat Valley, Kachchh has a rich tradition of sea trade from Mandvi and a global connection. A river system was shared between Kachchh, Sindh, and Rajasthan. As a border state, Kachchh is constantly absorbing cultures from the north, west, and east. Kachchhi motifs can be traced to the ancient Harappan civilization, yet craft is developing and growing with the innovative and entrepreneurial drive of spirited artists.
Hand Crafts have played a stunning role in shaping India’s culture. Handcrafts are more than just crafts. The artisan makes something by hand, yes, but puts his heart and a little bit of his soul into what he creates.
We then go on to form an immutable connection with these crafted weaves, prints, and embroideries— as they silently inform our sensibilities and our choices. They get so intricately woven into the warp and weft of our everyday lives that we perhaps don’t even notice how they form our everyday choices and sacred symbols. Hand crafts are in your Ikat upholstered chair, the Chanderi curtains that blow gently in the wind, the Kambhari piece hanging from your wall, and even in that scalloped “Aari” work dupatta you bring out only for special occasions.
Artisans have helped keep alive expressions of this intangible cultural heritage we resonate so strongly with. They represent a living breathing continual entity of traditions, technologies, and vidya, which have survived the sands of time, sometimes spanning centuries!
Over time, this generational artistry has evolved to tell intricate stories, folklore, or snippets of history —rendering each finished piece an exclusive and eternal statement by an artisan. Deriving its name from the Sanskrit word for rags ‘Kontha’, what was once a means to renew old clothes, Kantha today is considered an exquisite range in the world of fashion.
The Main Styles of Embroidery in Kachchh -
The Sindh-Kachchh regional styles of Suf, Khaarek, and Paako, and the ethnic styles of Rabari, Garasia Jat, and Mutava.
Ethnic styles express lifestyle. They are practiced by pastoralists whose heritage is rooted in the community rather than land and considered cultural property. With Ethnic work, they also have other specialties like Patchwork and Applique Traditions, Needlework, Printed Textile, Weaving, Mashru Weaving, and other Artwork
Handcrafts – Surviving decades of neglect
Hand Crafts was once quite the champion in the story of the Indian economy. In 1750, for instance, India supplied around a quarter of the world’s production of manufactured goods- which were largely confined to handicrafts. According to research quoted by S. Sivasubramanian in Income from the secondary Sector in India, even in 1947, eighty percent of the workforce connected with the manufacturing activity was employed in the handicraft sector.
As time passed, industrialization took over. Mass-produced machine-made goods pushed aside the artisans, who could not compete with these well-organized industrial units.
Though the skills persisted silently, being handed down from one generation to the next, for a precarious time in the middle, many of these heritage handicrafts was hanging by a slender thread holding on for dear life. As the children of artisans migrated to cities to earn livelihoods, there were no more willing students left behind, sending several art forms, techniques, and skills into oblivion. Lost forever.
A new age dawned - only to be interrupted by the pandemic
The past several years have seen a push from the right quarters to revive the handicraft and handloom industries in India. Attempts by government bodies, private stakeholders, and non-profit organizations alike have been to integrate these disorganized artisan clusters into the mainstream textile sector. The artisans though still not affluent were finally beginning to merge into the rhythm of the world of demand, manufacturing, crafts fairs, and working with cooperatives.
Before the pandemic hit, the production of hand-woven fabric from India constituted 95 percent of global production. The sudden impact of the pandemic pulled the rug from underneath their feet again. This made apparent the cracks in the current model and the need to build a more sustainable approach to nurture a community left largely neglected for over 50 years. In a short few weeks, the demand waned, the movement stopped, the crafts fairs dried up, and the money stopped. The artisans are back to struggling for their two meals a day.
The sector that is the second-largest employment provider for the rural population of India, with over 4.3 million people involved in the production, came to a complete stand-still. Certainly, a more sustainable approach is the need of the hour.
Sustainable models require a deep shift in consumer behavior
Despite the sector’s potential and growing global outreach, consumption from the home markets continues to be staggered. There are limited takers from the large familiar customer base that exists at the doors of these handicraftsmen.
The new-age Indian consumer is aware, conscientious, woke, sustainability-inclined, buys local, carbon-footprint conscious—then where is the lacuna?
The fact is, there are multiple brands with ethnic, Indian, Swadesi flavors that are finding loyal patronage owing to high-visibility. Evidently respect for the finesse and uniqueness of the handspun and handcrafted already exists.
But are the fair wages, love, and recognition reaching the artisans in Sitapur, or Chak or Bhuj? Is the shared higher response resulting in regular guaranteed wages, higher motivation, better healthcare and improved education systems for these communities?
What do we need? Firstly, a new model that bridges the gap between the artisans and the consumers needs to be built, nurtured, and strengthened. This is of utmost importance.
Secondly, for those still lured by fast fashion, it is time to re-think our response. Our behavior as individual consumers leaves an impact on the environment. Not only is the time ripe to want better, but it is also imminent now to direct energies towards building new lifestyle choices. When the Indian consumers change the way they buy, there will be an expanding consumer base that makes greener choices, builds sustainable demands, and supports locals.
The possibilities are limitless if we douse the intense potential of our artisan clusters with the intent to choose responsibly.