I can’t tell where it starts and where it ends – the array of threats by far exceeds my imagination. I am impressed by the ease and thoughtless effort the weavers radiate as they craft the material threat by threat. Spending a week with the artisans of Suraiya’s weavers workshop would leave me with an excitement for handmade textiles, a supportive partnership to make KRAFT’s supply chain more impactful, and a boatload of new ideas and inspiration.
Suraiya set up the weaving project back in 1985, after she gained experience working for the department of handicraft and handlooms before moving on to the Cottage Industries Emporium. The business really took off after John Bissel, founder of one of the most famous social enterprises in India – Fabindia – started sourcing his fabrics and furnishings from the workshop. Since then many famous designers have bought their textiles from Suraija, but for her it is not about the money. Her passion lies within the revival of traditional weaving techniques and patterns.
In the back of the weaving room Dominique, the manager of the shop, shows me a collection of almost historical textiles. I get a feel of a groom’s dressing that is over 300 years old, and that they are now re-creating one pattern at a time. He tells me all about himroo, mushroo, paithani, kalamkari and ikat – how are they made, why are they special and why are they are worth saving. My head spins from all the foreign words, but the message still comes across: The cost of labour increases, whilst garments become cheaper and cheaper. Younger generations find that they can make a better living in alternative occupations. As a result, a vital part of the Indian culture, known for its textiles and beautifully crafted materials, is going extinct.
As we leave the sample room to have a look at the weaving, I realise with surprise that a small group of children in school uniforms is following us, their curiosity reflected on their faces. In the back of the property Suraiya established a school for now over 600 children, both boys and girls. Co-education is regarded crucial at the school, so that children learn and understand how to interact with the opposite sex. Furthermore, a special importance is placed on English, for the kids to enjoy the highest standard of education available and take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way. Finally, special support and assistance is given to children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The impact of the weavers workshop is many-fold. The shop mainly employs women from poor families who are being paid a fixed salary independent of sales. Their children are offered free education at the compound’s school. In the workshop, around 20 women are crafting 2-4 inches of traditional materials every day. A true social enterprise if I’ve ever seen one.
After I propose my idea for KRAFT to Dominique, he immediately offers to take me on as an intern for a week, to show and explain to me everything he knows about ikat. I don’t hesitate long to accept his offer. After finally wrapping my brain around the workings of the handloom, and gaining an understanding of the work and effort that goes into hand weaving, we discuss threat counts, printing techniques, dying methods and ikat production. Even though a week is not enough to completely understand the processes of textile making, I leave feeling confident that I am investing in the right place. A partnership with Suraiya’s weaving workshop ensures not only the highest possible quality of my garments, but exponentially extents the social impact I am hoping to make.
This was the crucial step towards creating KRAFT. Similar to the looms, I had found my starting point – but where it ends…who knows?