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TBI Blogs: How a Gujarat Institute is Empowering Rural Artisans to Set up Their Own Businesses

For many budding Indian artists, getting proper training and education can make all the difference between earning livelihoods and living in squalor. A crowdfunding campaign aims to help such a training programme educate three budding artisans from Gujarat.

When Akram Jusab Khatri was just two years old, his family was left fractured by the historic Gujarat earthquake of 2001. The home that had once served as a cocoon for the family, nestled in the hinterland of Dhamadka, had been decimated in seconds. But Akram’s spirit was kindled with a fire for craft at a tender age, and his zeal carried him through.

His grandfather had forged a rich tradition for the family, having immersed himself in creating traditional garments, known as sadlas, in the town of Vagad, Gujarat. It was only after his passing that Akram’s father, Jusab, moved the family to Dhamadka, where he continued the legacy of cloth printing that his own father had begun. Perhaps the ardour for block printing and dyeing was a precious inheritance passed on from generation to generation in the Khatri family, for when Akram was in his final year of school, he taught himself block printing and dyeing, intending to pursue a livelihood in textiles.

Little did he know, the seeds for the next chapter of his life were sown then.

Akram was one of the 12 students who graduated from Somaiya Kala Vidya in 2016. Today he designs his own collections and works with leading design and retail houses of the country.

Meet Akram, and you’ll see that his story has roots in a reality that overarches almost every member of the artisanal fraternity. For budding artisans like Akram, financial constraints often mean that self-taught, dilettante skills limit a career in craft.

In 2016, Somaiya Kala Vidya, a design institute exclusively for artisans, pointed Akram to a plethora of opportunities he had previously never explored. Judy Frater founded the institute in 2014. It is a first-of-its-kind academy imparting artisans with a deeper understanding of culture and arts, promoting excellence in design, and raising the income and ethics of those engaging in craft.

Somaiya Kala Vidya has been instrumental in transforming the artisanal topography in Gujarat. Originally started as a core design education programme, it has gradually augmented its quiver of courses by adding a coveted post-graduate course, a course in Kutch textile traditions, and an array of outreach programmes. With an ethos emblazoned with a drive for economic upliftment, the institute is more than just a design school. It provides students access to new markets, teaches them about traditional identity, and coaches them through effective business skills. It empowers them to reach higher.

It’s a harbour of talent and goodness and new horizons.

Master artisans and faculty from leading design schools from the country teach students the finer nuances of design education, and impart key skills to help them launch their first individual collection.

The academy’s journey, though hugely successful, has faced several financial roadblocks. Its post-graduate programme, in particular, whose doors open to a selection of 11 students every year, has been struggling to raise adequate funds. To spotlight the problems faced by artisans and to bolster the efforts made by Somaiya Kala Vidya, a deserving crowdfunding campaign was born in late May 2017. India Kala spearheaded the effort.

Though they stem from different backgrounds, India Kala and Somaiya Kala Vidya have tightly intertwined paths. Since its inception in 2016, India Kala’s mission has had deep layers of social consciousness. Deep-seated in a 400 artisan-strong community spread across the length and breadth of the country, the brand has embraced over 40 craft forms, each one standing for social responsibility and superior quality.

Help empower rural artisans through design education

It was the instinct to give back that inspired India Kala to ignite a crowdfunding campaign for Somaiya Kala Vidya on Ketto.org, one of Asia’s largest crowdfunding platforms. The campaign will encourage artisans to continue their rich artisanal legacy, and perhaps pass it on to their children.

Somaiya Kala Vidya has seen more than 30 graduates from their post-graduate course. Each one graduated able to innovate, reach newer markets, price products fairly, earn livelihoods, and most importantly, believe in themselves. Educating a single artisan costs around ₹1,00,000. India Kala aims to secure the course costs of at least three students of the 2017 batch. The costs cover lodging and boarding, materials, teaching fees, field trips, a maiden fashion show, and a convocation.

Apart from these, the funds raised will also help compensate the faculty associated with the institute.

The current class of 2017. Our Ketto campaign will help at least three students from this class complete their education and graduate successfully.

If you’ve visited India Kala’s website, you may have noticed that their curated collections come from various corners of India. The social partnership will also see each artisan from the institute launch their first collection on India Kala, for free. India Kala intends to donate all proceeds from the sale of this collection directly to the artisans. These will provide each one with not only access to the larger world, but also economic empowerment.

Social crowdfunding has seen significant traction in recent times, with organisations choosing to support causes that align with their mission. In turn, the fundraising process allows brands to build a close-knit, loyal community that resonates similar sentiments and inclinations.

The handicraft sector is India’s second largest employment sphere. It provides livelihoods to close to 7 million artisans, almost 50 % of whom have never had any formal education. India Kala’s crowdfunding campaign has set a precedent in the artisanal space, aiming to collect ₹3,00,000 for design education. For a country whose economic fabric rests precariously on the handicraft industry, this is a promising begin.

All donations are tax exempt. Contributions of ₹2,500 and above will receive a stole or scarf from the rural artisan class of 2017.

To donate to India Kala’s design education campaign for rural artisans, click here.

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Written by India Kala

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India Kala aims to be an extension of the artisan's atelier, bringing to you all things handmade of the finest craftsmanship and quality.