Getting craftspeople connected to mainstream fashion

July 11th, 2011 - 1:47 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 11 (IANS) Indigenous craftspeople in India are getting connected with the mainstream fashion industry through a crafts and design revolution.

Experts reach out to the indigenous craftspeople in the interior areas of the country, with design and lifestyle solutions that in turn, integrates their traditional crafts in modern fashion education.

Experts say this will enhance design strategies, get international branding for their products, improve lifestyles with social intervention projects and teach students of contemporary fashion the importance of traditional handicrafts.

The traditional crafts solutions in India lie in the uplift of craft folk’s social conditions, greater education and ensuring life of their crafts, UK-based professor and crafts activist, Jackie Guille, said.

Guille has spent 40 years developing designs in education and crafts enterprise in sub-Saharan Africa for the European Commission and the United Nations.

“Craftspeople with children should be allowed a position in the society where their heritage is allowed to grow and change,” she said.

“Education institutions, GenNext and children of the artisans should come together as equals to share the problems in the sector and create solutions together,” Guille told IANS here.

“I had worked on a project in Uganda - the Nalumenye Women’s Group - a community of basket weavers. I combined health and design as a solution module for them. The weavers interpreted their stories about HIV/AIDS, gender abuse and neglect through their baskets. Similar models should be replicated in India,” she said.

Guille is helping St Mary’s Convent in the Gomitipur area of Ahmedabad in Gujarat. A UK-based fair price retail chain “Trade Craft” is working there with 300 women and a local master designer to brand the local embroidered textiles.

The chain aims to “develop a sense of ownership, confidence and social equity (access to better cultural and social life) among the weavers”.

The crafts activist and designer has also been working for the Developing Partnerships for Higher Education project (Delphi), a collaboration between the Pearl Academy of Fashion, Northumbria University in UK and Dastkar.

Dastkar is a 30-year-old crafts organisation.

The first crafts cluster brought under the project is a community of craftspeople in Ranthambore in Rajasthan, who operate under the banner of Dastkar.

Professor Usha Nehru Patel, the head of the department of the Foundation Design Studies at the Pearl Academy of Fashion and the coordinator of Delphi project, said: “We send our students to document their craft and give them branding solutions. We have adopted two more villages in Ranthambore in addition to the existing ones as a capacity building initiative to train more artisans.”

Patel said: “My team realised that craftspeople needed design enhancement, grading or sizing skills for their ready-made apparel and more stitching on the surface of the clothes they designed, to get brand identity.”

In the adopted villages, the fashion school also takes care of the people’s livelihoods.

Patel said she was also “trying to think of ways to bring the niche Kashmiri weavers, needle-folks and expensive crafts to the mainstream with design-based solutions - like lightening of the size of the yarn and changing the size of the woven textiles like stoles”.

Founder of Dastkar and noted crafts activist Layla Tayabji said:

“Since everybody is obsessed with brands, it is not enough to define a genre of craft as kalamkari or pichwai painting any more.”

“The product has to be given a name, identity and value - and has to be made different from the rest of the consumer identity,” Tayabji told IANS.

Dastkar works with more than 30,000 craftspeople in the country across 230 crafts communities.

“Indian craftspeople need security, recognition in the society, wider networks, healthcare, legal aid, gender support, education and housing,” she said.

“We work with several non-profit groups and institutions like NID (National Institute of Design), NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology) and Pearl Academy, to better their lot- both in skills and livelihoods. It is a two-way process, we learn from them, and provide for them,” Tayabji said.

Design-based solution has been at the top of the country’s design fraternity for the last two years.

The NID unveiled the Indian design I-mark early this year and launched “design clinics” in villages and small towns, together with the government to help small and medium scale industries and micro-designers.

“The approach to design in India should be holistic to help craftspeople, manufacturers, consumers and make the products competitive in the global markets,” Pradyumna Vyas, director of the National School of Design said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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