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Shaping the Post-pandemic World through our Choices

A handmade, hand-brought perspective

By Vaidehi Patil

(Article and Artwork)

Untangling the Present Threads

Awareness regarding what goes inside us, around us, on us can go a long way.

As we adapt to the pandemic, we are in a new space, a relaxed yet desperate territory. The Biryani can now stay in the Dum for a little longer and the connoisseurs of coffee can let the filter do its magic more often. As unreal as it might sound, fast fashion and fast food, might soon lose relevance for the better. Close your eyes, take a deep breath- hasn’t our planet turned inside out ever since the outbreak of the Coronavirus? All of it with us privileged being locked in our homes.

With the COVID conditions around, the entire world has been required to cut itself a lot of slack, and we need to figure out how to compensate, whether to compensate at all. Slowing down is the need of the hour, and all of us must have observed ourselves observing closed spaces, pre-existing textures with novelty. A sudden realization of the same pattern on the teacup and a patchwork quilt that sits on the sofa or doing an in-house exhibition of our mother’s soft sarees that are older than us have been interesting activities a lot of us did during this lockdown. Since relativity of time is more relevant than ever, can there be a better time to appreciate handwoven baskets and textiles, handmade pots and everything intricate and obscure around?

While Instagram and Facebook are flooding with artists trying to make the most of the emotional turmoil that all of us are in, are we overlooking those artists who can’t be given a shoutout in our Instagram stories, who can’t be tagged in our posts and challenges? Asking anybody to make a sudden shift to Indian handicrafts and textiles overnight so that the weavers and craftsmen don’t suffer the blows of the pandemic would be 100% irrational. Trying to bring in techniques of mass production in Indian handicrafts, so as to increase revenue would kill their very essence. What do we do, then?

With endless questions in mind and an urge to understand the world of Indian textiles and handicrafts without stepping out of our rooms, this written piece is an attempt to decode the looms and weaves that shape the fabric of modern-day capitalism and consumerism. This can be a framework for us to adapt to being a consumer in a post-pandemic period.

The Awareness of Choice and the Choice of Awareness

Instead of hopping on the bandwagon of convenience, can we make more sensitive, calculated and producer friendly choices?

A survey was conducted to understand patterns in consumer behaviour. The aim was to also use it as a medium to instigate questions and consequently, a thought process in the minds of the audience. The aesthetics of an individual, personal choices, availability of goods, budget restrictions, the need of the hour, binge sprees- there are endless factors that contribute to the process of a product being bought.

With the intent of translating choices to ideologies, these were a few of the questions that were asked:

(a) Choosing between eating with hands or with a spoon and fork,

(b) Eating a vada pav (or any other local food) or a burger and

(c) Buying readymade garments or getting them stitched

The predicted teams were hands-local food-stitched garments vs spoon and fork-burgers-readymade garments, considering the conventional combinations that we often assume to co-exist. While both of these came second in line, hands-vada pav (any local food)-readymade garments won with a clear majority. The hands and local food combination could be well understood from the cultural background of the samples- almost all of them Indian.

Habits like frequently going to malls which are a one-stop destination for all varieties of products, buying groceries from vendors in the vicinity, buying accessories from street markets because they tend to be cheaper were observed.

While directly addressing the focus of this article, lack of knowledge, lack of empathy, interest and sensitivity, lack of appropriate sources, touch and go budgets were aspects that came in the way of buying more producer-sensitive goods and this article aims to approach them all from a multitude of directions. What pulls us behind? What are our obstacles before moving on to the call to action?

What is the Real Picture, What Looms over the Looms?

What if we greet the intricacies that come along our ways, than blindly running in the race of our everyday routines?

Do you feel that the prices of handmade goods are higher when you compare them to mass-produced, store-bought items? You must have also been a victim of the prejudice which labels handloom as a belonging of the upper class. Yes, we’re sailing in the same boat, and let’s navigate through the uncharted waters, together.

Handmade products tend to be more expensive, because of the time and effort that is poured into producing each piece. How do we reach the line where it is a fair deal for the artisans as well as the buyers? Vegetables come under the daily bought list of items, perfect for an example. Farmers’ markets are forums where a number of producers sell their produce themselves, thus reducing the added costs of all the middlemen. Shortening the supply chain, so that the goods move from producers to consumers in one single step is one way to go about.

‘Producer owned enterprises’ also shorten the supply chain. The success here lies behind the idea that teaching the artisans to run a business and not just to use their skill or art well, thus, empowering them to earn their dough along with profits to spice it up. We give them the tools and methods to save money so that in cases of emergency like the present, they have resources to rely on.

Apart from this, there is a base of customers that these industries rely on, a target group that usually tends to be women. Most of the time those leaning towards the older age groups, their finances no more a worry and a bit of flamboyance telling them not to hurry, rhyme with the aesthetics of Indian arts. Another reason why people tend to stay away from Indian handicrafts is that they do not always fit in the ever-changing trends that conquer the markets.

Malls offer multiple brands and consequently provide a range of products within a broad range of prices. With a bunch of items in all of our closets that we could not resist buying because a) they were cheap and b) they were absolutely gorgeous, the reality check says that shifting entirely, is going to take a while. Until I convince you or you convince yourself, what power do we have?

Ask yourself, would you let your child do what you do, as a means to their dough? Then, take a look at the artisans and craftsmen, whose answers to this question might be no- thanks to unsatisfactory wages or working conditions and no recognition for their work. What can we do? Scroll down and have a look at those doing their bit, contribute in the way that suits you the best!

What can We Do?

Here’s a list of a few brands to help you step on your path towards shopping for a cause. If you don't fancy any of them, you are sure to have friends, relatives who would. Share it with them, or even better- surprise them with an intricate handmade gift!

1. Okhai

Okhai is a brand that survives on the shoulders of tribal and rural women who produce high-quality mirrorwork, patchwork and embroidery apparel. They have gone one step ahead from empowering themselves, to give back to the society during the COVID 19 pandemic. Click here to help Okhai in their cause of creating masks for those who don’t have access to them.

2. Khamir

We often question the need for traditional arts and crafts to sustain. It is the adaptability and their store of value that makes them special. Weaving bags out of waste plastic for school going children is one of the activities that happen at Khamir. As a student of the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Sonal Choudhury has had the chance to work with Khamir. Here is how she has connected to the cause,

"There is a different joy in buying something homegrown... The thought of it being born on your own soil, by your own people ~ soaked in traditional stories and songs of their native homes, makes it not just a product, but a story... The one you recall each time you wrap it around you like a scarf or a jacket.”

3. Local Exhibitions

Considering the situation, it is understood that cutting down on expenses is going to be upon everybody’s agendas, and a handloom kurta or a saree won’t necessarily top the priority lists. What next, then? Block prints, tie and dye, patchwork, multiple kinds of embroidered fabrics- there’s absolutely no end to the types of fabrics that the Indian market produces, just the way there are no limits to what can be done with them. Outfits, bedsheets, cushion covers, wallets, curtains- you name it! Local exhibitions are where you will find all these, at the best and the fairest of prices.

If you’re in Bangalore, keep an eye out for exhibitions at Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath or in Pune, exhibitions at Sonal Hall- this is for when life begins anew, of course. References for sales and sharing the best deals in town, isn’t this how the ‘consumerhood’ thrives?

4. Local shops

The one thing that we Indians are the best at, is building relationships- be it with friends or shopkeepers. Why not befriend a nearby textile shop-wale bhaiya? In that case, not only is he sure to have a customer but you are sure to avail all offers before anyone. Stay in touch and he will also save the best piece for you!

5. Industree

If you don’t connect with any of these brands, don’t you worry! You can be a part of a change in a different way. Industree Foundation works towards taking forward traditional skills and amalgamating them into a sustainable system of production. ‘Lives, Livelihoods, and Life after COVID-19: Business NOT as usual’, is a part of their response to the Pandemic. Donate or volunteer for the aspect of rehabilitation you relate to more- it’s a win-win situation!

6. Rangsutra

The idea of a company co-owned by over 2000 artisans across rural India that sells their products online sounds too good to be true. This is what Rangsutra is all about. Is this as an opportunity space to redefine your ‘cool’, maybe?

7. The Jodi Life

Apart from improving working conditions, how do we encourage the artisans to keep going? Artists sign their artworks when they come to a point of satiety. Recognition and appreciation play an important role for a creator. Let’s take a look at The Jodi Life website as an example. Scroll down their website and you’ll see all those artisans who make your clothes. Is it anything but fair for us to know the maker when we almost always know the designer?

8. Ikea

Another important thing as a buyer is to be aware about what we buy. For a portion of the crowd, the assumed impression is that Ikea is just another hyped-up brand. However, it has actually managed to reach rural India, and connect with artisans, work on projects with them. Intentionally looking for where our products come from, can actually be fun and lead to interesting stories! Ikea collaborated with Greenkraft, a producer-owned enterprise based in Bangalore, for their recent collection ‘Botanisk’. We often tend to discard basic solutions without even considering them, and this collection is the perfect example of how basics can guide us to sustainability.

Navigate across the obstacles that restrict you, give these solutions a shot.

Our choice to buy certain products is what keeps an industry going. As a consumer, the least we can do is demand to know where our products come from. While we know that customer is God, we also need to keep in mind that if the producers don't produce anything, we won't have anything to consume. This way of thinking is the best way to be balanced. It is the best way to coincide consumer rights and labour rights. Sumita Ghose, the founder and director of Rangsutra recited a couplet in a short documentary, and it is the perfect way for us to take the first step towards making informed, empowered choices.

‘Dariya ki kasam, maujo ki kasam, ye taana baana badlega. Tu khud ko badal, tu khud ko badal, tabhi to jamaana badlega.’

Translated into English as,

‘I swear by the waves of the sea and the breeze that I will change the warp and weft of society. It is only when I myself change, that the world around me will change.’

All artworks are original artworks created by Vaidehi Patil.

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