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Meet the Desi Artisans Whose Contemporary Take on Traditional Indian Arts Is Winning Over London

Meet the Desi Artisans Whose Contemporary Take on Traditional Indian Arts Is Winning Over London

Collaborating with local Indian artisans, the brand offers a variety of products including shoes, bags, woollen accessories and even games.

Combine western funk with eastern artistry and you have Funky Kalakar!

With the invasion of mass production in practically everything we buy, traditional practices of Indian artisans and craftsmen, passed down through generations, are gradually fading away with little to no scope for a sustainable future. An up and coming brand, Funky Kalakar brings the best of East and West together and offers a platform to showcase the country’s rich crafts tradition.

Founder Amey Alshi, who comes from a family engaged in a saree business in Maharashtra, always wanted to start his own enterprise but was unsure of how to go about it.

Things took a turn when Amey visited the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in October 2015. The V&A was then hosting a show titled “The Fabric of India”.

“Apart from showcasing painted fabrics from 1590 to 2015, the exhibition also detailed the ways in which cotton and silk fabric were produced, along with the vegetable dying process, handmade embroideries and so on. The entire process during pre-industrialisation was handmade, sustainable and environmentally friendly,” says Amey.

That visit sparked a light-bulb moment, intriguing Amey with the possibilities of sustainable fashion. In order to understand the different facets of sustainability in fashion, he enrolled for a short course in fashion design from the renowned London institute Central Saint Martins. He followed the course with a brief stint at London Fashion Week in September 2016.

“It was during this time, that I approached my childhood friend Amit Jain and vaguely explained my idea about sustainable fashion and incorporating the elements of traditional Indian artworks,” he says. “Amit was instantly hooked on to the concept and I guess, there has been no looking back since.”

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Thus started a journey that took the duo deep into the interiors of Northern India, as part of an extensive research that included studying various indigenous art forms and meeting local artisans who still practiced these crafts.

“We went to villages which didn’t even have local transport or road infrastructure. We came across several artisans who were extremely talented but still struggled to meet ends. Demonstrating enormous love and passion for the art form, which was inherited by them from their ancestors, we realised that the medium they used to display their art form was not able to fetch them adequate returns,” adds Amey.

Funky Kalakar was born from the duo’s immense appreciation for indigenous art forms and their desire to showcase these to the world.

Amey Alshi and Amit Jain with the team based in Naggar, Himachal Pradesh

“We envision our organisation as a foothold for sustainability, empowerment and ultimately a sanctuary for the artistic temperament,” he says.

Funky Kalakar’s line of products include shoes, bags, woollen accessories and even games. The founders have partnered with an SHG consisting of 12 women based in the village of Naggar, Himachal Pradesh, for the production of woollen accessories.

“The whole intention behind this initiative is to help women artisans lift themselves and their families out of poverty and become empowered businesswomen,” Amey says. “The colours for the accessories are derived from medicinally rich herbs, flowers, stems and roots, that are fabled to have the ability to cure allergies and have antimicrobial, anti inflammatory properties enhancing body transpiration.”

FK also has a range of leather products and accessories incorporating hand-painted Madhubani designs by artists based in Delhi, UP and Bihar.

A Madhubani artist at work

The brand’s range of shoes has an interesting development process, as the designs are block-printed on cotton using the Ajrakh technique and the soles are made from scrap tyres. The production unit, based in Mumbai, has also employed four roadside cobblers for this purpose. “These cobblers were struggling to earn a living due to increase in branded machine-made products. It is not just about employing four men, but providing for four families,” Amey explains.

The enterprise have also partnered with Srujna, an NGO that works towards empowering poverty-ridden women for the production of cotton tote bags that are shipped with every product as a complimentary hold-all.

Additionally, the brand also offers classic board games like chess and snake and ladders. “We are working with Kala Raksha, an organisation that works towards preservation of traditional arts by employing underprivileged women in Sumrasar, Gujarat. The pieces of chess are upcycled from surplus/leftover fabric from the garment manufacturing process,” Amey says.

Collaborating with artists across India, the team operates out of a studio based in Tonbridge, a town in Kent, United Kingdom.

One of the chess pieces

The FK team has recently opened a concept store in Notting Hill, London, teaming up with 5 other like-minded sustainable and ethical brands. The team also features in the catalogue of UK’s largest ethical fashion retailer,

On entering the Indian market, FK has recently collaborated with Fairtrunk, said to be India’s first ethical and sustainable market place. “We will soon be officially launching our product in India with the launch of Fairtrunk”, Amey says.

To get in touch with Funky Kalakar, click here.

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