“The fact that I still find so much beauty in a handicraft is because my mother taught us to see not just the craft as a product but the craft as an embodiment of human creativity and human labour.” - Vandana Shiva
Artisans have always been a part of our SUI story. Even from the start, before we grew and partnered with other craft communities, we had a love for the art of clothing design. Hand embroidery especially has always been a signature of ours and we treasure its slow process, seeing each thread come together to make something beautiful. It’s a part of who we are and something that we know goes beyond making something pretty. Supporting craft like this also means supporting communities who have spent, sometimes, generations passing down the art - it’s a part of our rich heritage and what makes us a proudly Indian brand.
That’s why one of our pillars at SUI is craft and community. The pillar is our promise to work closely with Indian crafts, to empower the communities we work with and educate others about how artisan craft is connected to our mission. These age old traditions are both unique and hold a much lower footprint when it comes to its impact within the industry, which is just a few of the many green reasons why we love them.
Artisans are the heart of SUI as we hope to further it in the future, and so, as India experiences the second COVID wave, we have seen it devastate craft communities who depend so much on constant work and orders, leaving them vulnerable in this time. We knew we had to support them however we could and ask you to also join us in that mission.
Why should we support our artisans?
The crafts sector is the second largest employment sector in India and is also regarded as the backbone of India’s rural economy with “Official estimates suggest[ing] that India is home to seven million artisans most of whom are in rural and semi-urban areas, however, data from unofficial sources indicates that the number is as high as 200 million.”
This contextualisation helps us realise just how many are affected due to the second wave. In fact, many artisan communities have, in their own ways, struggled ever since the first wave, which led to cancellation of orders, rise in raw material pricing, supply chain disruptions and less work coming their way - things we have directly witnessed through our partnerships with WomenWeave and Bagru Textiles.
[Here, Mahima has a conversation with Vijendra from Bagru Textiles which occurred during the first wave.]
This in turn, of course, affects what they earn as many artisans rely on constant work to help feed their families and stay safe. And just as things were getting slightly better, India was hit with the second wave, one that will certainly exacerbate previous issues and hit worse than the first, causing many artisans to not only pause or be out of work due to lockdowns but also put the health and safety of their families at risk. The situation affects communities in every part of the nation, here are few articles to help you understand the situation better:
- India' Fashion Artisans Face 'Extreme Distress' in Pandemic - depicts the situation in Mumbai for karigars, many of whom craft for luxury houses like Chanel.
- Amazing Lace: The Women Makers of Kerala - the effect on small artisan communities like these women in Eravipuram who are working hard to cultivate their craft.
- The Indian Garment Worker: Rights versus Survival - reveals how vulnerable craft communities are and that "no global brand initiated an exigency support net for supply chain workers from India.Moreover, the medical infrastructure in India is currently under utter distress and we want to shed light on these issues that distress so many in our nation. While our hope is to empower them with work in the future, many villages remain in lockdown such as Maheshwar and they require a helping hand to make it through.
Each artisan in India is special, let’s support them.
How are we helping?
Through our Shop For A Cause campaign, we’re raising funds for two COVID relief initiatives, the She And I Foundation’s efforts, that seeks to provide COVID relief to rural parts of India, as well as the Maheshwar Women Artisans Fund which we’ll talk about more here.
What is it?
The Maheshwar Women Artisans Fund is raising money to to provide ration kits and necessary medical supplies to female craft communities in need, the Fund was created by Nivedita Rai, an advocate for Indian handicraft as well as the founder of Karghewale, a platform that connects with many different rural weaving communities in Maheshwar, seeking to empower them, helping them progress their skills as well as develop new ones. We have been working with Nivedita since 2018 - as she also previously worked for WomenWeave - and knew connecting with her and any initiatives she chose to support, would mean supporting communities that needed it.
Through her network, she has witnessed first-hand the effect this second wave has had on these communities and has recently organised this fundraiser to reach out to others who can donate and support the cause.
What are the donations contributing to?
Nivedita’s fundraiser will help support 2000 artisan families - the support includes food, medical and sanitary supplies. To put it in perspective, here’s exactly what the donations will go to:
- INR 1150 ensures food supplies for one month
- INR 500 ensures medical and sanitary supplies for one month.
As we always say, every little bit helps, so no matter how much you contribute, just being willing to contribute will go a long way for families who are particularly struggling to lead normal lives at this moment in time.
Other initiatives you can support
We, of course, also wanted to mention what other initiatives are currently underway that all also contribute to various craft communities all over India.
Here are just a few that would greatly welcome any help/donations:
- The Artisan Shop created by Raaha Consulting in partnership with Ka Sha India, Loom and Hand (Launching MAY 17TH)
This social impact initiative is focused on “using sales to sustain livelihoods”. It’s a platform “where global consumers can buy directly from the weavers” and will help with the following: reduction of deadstock; sales that help these these communities stay safe and afloat; gives them access to open economies; keeps home looms and workshops running; and connects the artisans to consumers through a transparent sales process.
- Dastkar’s artisan fund
Dastkar’s platform dedicates itself to empowering Indian artisans and cultivating Indian handicraft, so, in this time of their need, they reopened their Artisan Fund (initially created last year) that will help supply over 4350 families in 25 states with food packets, health supplies, raw material and marketing support.
- Creative Dignity’s COVID relief artisan fund
In their own words, “Creative Dignity is using its Pan India network of craft-related organizations and professionals working with communities by preparing artisan leaders to take preventive and preemptive measures.” They will be helping provide basic supplies and verified medical advice to prepare craft communities for home isolation as the state health infrastructure is under immense strain and can often not fully extend their aid.
- Kutch Craft Collective COVID-19 Karigar Fund in partnership with Kala Raksha, VRDI, Khamir Craft, Shrujan and Qasab Craft
A collective fund to support the artisans of Kutch, 5 NGOs that dedicate themselves to supporting and reviving craft communities are teaming up to pool donations and resources to aid them through the second wave.
- Support Nila Connect
This Jaipur-based organisation aims to be transparent about their artisans’ stories and show you just who’s creating their craft. Supporting them helps keep their artisans working and sustains their livelihoods.
- SUSS' COVID relief fund for 100 artisans in partnership with Swara, Kaaru Design and Social Vision India
This initiative aims to help artisans in Karnataka, Orissa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh who are in need of emergency relief - this includes providing ration/medical supply kits and bank transfers.
We hope you consider lending a hand to any of the organisations or initiatives we have mentioned. If anything, if you're able to buy and invest in craft, we urge you to look towards these communities and ones alike that are small and work slow. They work hard to nurture their craft and share it with the world, and we hope that we are able to help them keep creating now and in the future.