"India’s rural artisans and craftspeople are among the country’s greatest creative and cultural resources and are a vital part of the Indian economy. Yet despite their substantial contributions, rural artisans and craftspeople have been largely left out of India’s explosive economic growth and remain among the poorest groups in the country" - Artisans of Fashion
It's with great pleasure that I introduce you to a young woman who is determined to shine a light on both the talent and the life stories of artisans living in Uttar Pradesh, India. Aafreen Hasnain has hit the ground running since graduating from University only last year, starting Project Karchob in order to promote the skills and work of the artisans of Uttar Pradesh through the non profit organization Jyoti Welfare Association based in Lucknow.
According to her research more than 60% of the artisans are women, less than 10% of whom are educated beyond Grade 5 and due to a strict Caste System, a section of these women are given a lower wage than the others. Aafreen and her colleagues have made a conscious decision to create significant positive change within this artisan community!
I spoke to Aafreen recently about her work, inspirations and the future of fair trade in India.
Q. What inspired you to work with artisans based in Uttar Pradesh and to create Project Karchob?
I have grown up seeing my Mother work with artisans; I have been observing and learning from her since my childhood.
I started Project Karchob as I had strong faith in the work being done by the community and that their designs can be used on products beyond Indian clothing, which would suit a wider audience thus helping the society by getting more customers and promoting the art of hand embroidery.
Q. Where does the name ‘Karchob’ come from?
A 'Karchob' is a framework for making raised zari metallic thread embroidery, used by thousands of artisans to make beautiful hand embroidery. Our society is famous for it’s niche metallic thread work.
Q. How would you describe Project Karchob in 10 words or less?
Faith in hand work creates fair trade and innovative sustainable fashion
Q. Why do you think women are playing such an important role in fair trade projects around the world?
For India I can say the reason is because women were usually the ones who did not go out to work and hence they engaged in work they could do at home. Learning hand embroidery worked for most of them as they could sit at home and work while their kids and husband go to school and the office respectively. Even now, it is mostly the rural women who engage in hand embroidery as an income generating skill.
As for the women doing fair trade projects, I would say it is compassion and an enthusiasm for working for the much earned credit and praise that the artisans deserve which is worth fighting for.
Q. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while working on Project Karchob?
1. Lack of a brand value: People usually do not buy from a brand they do not know of and which does not have a strong online presence. The society, Jyoti Welfare Association is a small society and does not have a website with a payment gateway.
2. Designers: The society has very fine hand embroidery artisans and niche design techniques but we do not have designers who can make clothing for a western market or to make products beyond apparel. Hence we are looking for designers who want to use our skills and work with us in the field or remotely to make some beautiful embroidery pieces.
Q. Where can people purchase the items crafted by the project’s artisans?
People can visit our store in New Delhi, India to purchase readymade products or order customised products.
Currently we do not have an online store with a payment gateway, however we do have a Facebook page where people can view the products and send a message for the item they are interested in.
Most importantly people who like our work can contact me directly at Aafreen.firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be very happy to discuss our catalogue and assist in customized design for their products.
Q. Who or what is inspiring you right now?
I am inspired by lots of people working in the fair trade fashion sector but most of all I am inspired by the people I work with in the field i.e. the artisans themselves and the designers who work with us out of their comfort zone to continuously improve their designs on modern clothing and accessories.
Q. What does the future hold for Project Karchob?
Well, a lot of hard work for sure! I hope that through Project Karchob we are able to provide permanent employment to the artisans, as of now we have only work-based employment.
You can follow Aafreen and Project Karchob on Facebook and Twitter!