India is fire. Today was magic, it seems every day is magic in its own right. The ever-present Krishna flute, sing-song spoken language and deep hum of rickshaws- it’s all music. Music and magic. I’m in love and I’m staying here to design for Gramshree. Specifically with vegetable dyed block-printed cotton Ajrak textiles. It’s a dream, really. (I thought I was coming here just for a few weeks to help with patterns). I've accidentally moved to India (temporarily). I am ecstatic, mildly terrified, shocked at myself. Who just randomly moves to India?
Except it wasn’t random, I’ve been planning to come here for a while now- I wasn’t sure it would be with Gramshree, but I really wanted to go somewhere and do something meaningful, where no factory workers fall into chemical tubs or work 7 days a week, because there are no factory workers. Only artisans, whose quality of life is cared for.
I feel really overwhelmed a lot, in a good way- everything is new, exciting, fresh, strange. The bindis in particular remind me that I am in a completely different world, worlds and worlds away from my world. Not the sparkly pop star stickers, but just simply a red dot of pigment that Hindu women wear every day. The bindi is an expression of their reality- culture, heritage, community. From the viewpoint of my personal previously known reality, Hindu women appear extra-terrestrial in a sense- that perfectly curated forehead pigment, the abundant textiles draping around the body, a different head bobble for each possible answer. (sidenote: Indian people are supremely perceptive, which has greatly benefitted my attempts at communication via nonverbal)
God, the people. The kindness and intelligence of Indian people is remarkable. There is a fantastic degree of self awareness permeating the culture; everything that is done appears premeditated (even if it’s not). They read each other very differently than westerners do. I think we might be a little obsessed with psychology 101. (Or, at least I am). Are pupils dilating? Hands sweaty? Eyes darting? Body language- which way is the torso turned? It’s all literal and textbook, a western way of reading another’s feelings. Indians, it’s like they just know- they perceive energy on an entirely different wavelength.
Maybe I’m just manifesting a fantasy in my head, - but, let’s say that’s the truth. Why the hell not feel I’m living a fantasy? As much as I bent and twisted my NYC reality - “I’m in a chic office with beautiful talented people who are also nice and the hours are decent”- but every day I sat at a computer writing numbers helping no one. Nor was I creative or expressing myself in any way.
Here it seems I have the most beautiful opportunity to work with and bring business to talented artisans, their skills kept alive by Craftroots, all the while expressing my creativity and getting loving feedback from others in the organization. Did I walk over pipes of sewage and almost collide with a cow today? Yes. Was I wearing the correct footwear? No, sandals, and it was gross. I saw baby chickens and baby humans with no pants on and got barked at by a stray dog. My colleague sad BAA to a passing goat, and he looked and we laughed. Our food tonight burned my mouth off. Everything is real and raw and perfect for that reason. I feel so stupidly alive.
I am so in love with the animals of India. They might just be a perfect example of mindful living- focused on here and now (food and traffic?) while roaming ever forward. They keep to themselves for the most part; accepted members of street society in their own right.
However, not all are blessed with the fortune of independence. Camels pull carts of vegetables and other assorted items, while elephants are painted to entertain (still not sure how I feel about that).
Although- this specific elephant's job is to eat bananas all day in historic Ahmedabad. People pay ten rupees to feed him, and pet his trunk. Not bad, maybe?
The first camel I saw was magical. Look at his regal face!
Sweet little treat.
To best experience the surreal dreamland that is the Craftroots exhibition at the Surya Palace hotel in Ladoroda, hit “play” and imagine you’re smelling a mixture of samosa and smoke- the exact atmosphere in the space. (or click here for this gorgeous music)
They’re selling, but it’s not a “sale”. Textile vendors, visual artists and craftspeople associated with the NGO display their work simultaneously once a year in Vadodara, Gujarat. The artists are making while explaining their processes the entire time. Painting, sketching, metalworking, weaving, beading- everything you can imagine as associated with Indian handcrafted goods.
There is no bargaining here, these aren’t things you bargain for. How can we ask for a smaller price, when we see the man sawing metal appliqués right in front of us? The woman stitching embroidery on a dupatta? With this humanity comes respect for the work, respect for the amazing platform that Craftroots has given these people to keep traditional techniques alive and support themselves. They’re creating good and everyone can feel it
This is the perfect environment to find inspiration on a spiritual level, and make connections with like-minded people. People promoting social good specific to artistic endeavors float around the room. Textile vendors are selling organic cottons with vegetable dye block prints and handwoven batik fabrics. I’m overdosing on Ajrak, embroidery, mirror detailing- and I want more. We talk about production processes with enough gesticulation to bridge the murky language barriers. We’re on the same team
All mind blowing eye opening beauty in this space and a lot of love shared in the air today.
The Gramshree workspaces are small rooms on the top floor of a school. (One little boy proudly displayed his homemade kite as I walked up the stairs) It's full of creative and hopeful energy- with handpainted walls and colorful fabrics on every shelf. Each room has a purpose- hand dying, block printing, hand embroidery, even the tassels are handmade.
It was a quiet day according to the workers, as many people had already left for the Craftroots Exhibition three hours south east of Ahmedabad in Vadodara, which was set to begin the following day. Gramshree displays their work annually at this exhibition alongside a multitude of other artisan nonprofits, all associated with Craftroots.
The sewing room. :swoon:
Crossing the street in Ahmedabad is mildly terrifying. The cars stop for no soul. Unless you’re a cow.
I had heard that cows roam with reckless abandon in India but I wasn’t entirely convinced this could be true. Surely they would get hit by oncoming traffic? (Specifically Indian traffic, which appears to have no rules whatsoever)
Motorbike, car, rickshaw- honestly I am amazed by how well the drivers sense the ebb and flow of each other's movements; it's empathetic in a way. The way they maneuver around cows, and people holding babies- it’s like an impressive choreograph that only they are privy to.
And camels. Camels are here too.
Cops with big guns and long sticks lined the sides of Ashram Road when Martin and I took a trip to the supermarket. He said there weren't usually so many police but wasn't alarmed, so I minded my business and kept out of their way as we walked down the rickety/nonexistent sidewalk.
After spending roughly seven dollars on a large bag of random digestive crackers, dry noodles and water bottles, we stepped outside to see that traffic had been stopped and cops were swarming the entire area. Again, we kept to ourselves but decided it was best to head home
Instead, we fell into a congress worker rally for Hardik Patel, convener of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), who has been charged with some offenses that could land him in jail for life. At the time, we didn’t know what the protest was for- between my English and his Spanish, Gujarati wasn’t exactly our speciality. (I know some Hindi, but it wasn’t helpful at the time) We also didn’t know that this is a serious issue that many activists have been detained for and most everyone has strong feelings about it. We mistakenly became excited at first to witness firsthand something so obviously important.
As we continued on, I was stopped by the police. They asked where I was going in a way that said “You really shouldn’t be here”. The crowd was thick, becoming heated and I stood out like a sore thumb- the easiest “Where’s Waldo” ever is “Where’s White Girl” at a protest in India.
I got scared. We went home. Lesson learned.
Shortly after arriving, a housemate named Martin invited me for lunch at Ghandhi Ashram, the headquarters of nonprofit Manav Sadhna-as well as being, you know, the Gandhi Ashram. Full of incredible history. Volunteers converge there every day for a vegetarian meal and general camaraderie. It was a short walk away -which involved crossing the street -NYC traffic is toddlers on tricycles compared to Indian roadways. They take no prisoners.
The Ghandhi Ashram is a breathtaking place. At the time, many volunteers were participating in three days of silence accompanied by digital detox. (Amazing). The Ashram is on the Sabarmati river and saturated with greenery.
The energy is unexplainably serene; full of action and intention . Part of the area is impressively dedicated to composting toilet waste for plant fertilization on the grounds.
Inside a building on the grounds an incredibly kind staff was preparing lunch. Volunteers who live in the Ashram were there as well- inspiring people who took hiatuses from thriving careers to help underprivileged communities. I met an architect from Holland, a doctor from California, a dentist from Brooklyn and another professional from Venezuela among many others. They told their stories about India as we sat barefoot near the river eating dahl and rice with our hands.
“Dear Pilgrim- Welcome to a home away from home…This place is managed by Moved by Love, to provide a space of love and rest during your visit to Ahmedabad” reads a sign on the wall of the volunteer housing along with some basic rules. I can see peacocks and hear children playing through the sliding door of the balcony where other housemates have left their recently hand washed clothing to dry.
I had no idea what to expect on the way from the airport- in all honesty, I was mildly terrified. “…Wait, did I just show up in India alone with plans that are vague at best? Was this a smart thing to do actually??” Crazy sh** ran through my head the closer we got to the flat.
And then- I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a warm welcome anywhere. The other housemates, of various nationalities, were extremely kind and generous with their energy. “The first time in India is the BEST.” “Things here are different, but I think they are better”. They remembered what it was like to just idealistically show up somewhere wanting to do good work but having no idea really how it will happen.
Neighbor across the hall, "time pass" with a paper crane. Serene to watch.
Everyone in the building knows each other, leaves their doors open and says good morning. It's so unlike the diverted glances and questionable sounds heard through walls that I had grown accustomed to in New York. It feels like a home.
For the last few years as a fashion technical designer, it was my job to make patterns and write instructions for mass production referred to as a “tech pack". I learned the trade at Kenneth Cole shortly after studying design business and patternmaking at Parsons, then went on to complete development and production projects for Jessica Simpson Intimates, Ralph Lauren and Club Monaco among others.
Working in the NYC fashion industry is an unexplainable experience. There is no Devil Wearing Prada on the production side of things, however, there are excruciatingly high standards that aesthetic and technical designers are expected to uphold in the work at all times. Even in the smallest and most intricate of garments, any miniscule sewing slip-up from the factory is absolutely unacceptable. Along with the creation of production patterns and tech packs, my job also entailed alerting the factory regarding each blemish in the garment’s creation. (I once had a boss say to me, “be brutal to the factory or this s*** will never change”)
-to be clear, this person was not from any of the companies listed and shall remain anonymous-
^stitch was 1/16" off, caused a stink around the office due to tight production time.
Have you ever sewn? It’s not easy. I’ve been sewing since I was nine years old (best dressed dolls on the block!), made my clothes in highschool and sharpened my skills in college- I’m pretty good at this point, and even now I am fairly certain I could not consistently construct garments to the standard that large companies are expecting for mass production, especially in the small amount of time they reserve for each season. A little wobble in a stitch or n ever-so-slight wave in a hem? “Rejected. Factory must improve."
Imperfections are human; our hands are not machines, My job was to remove the hand in fashion mass production. I began to wonder who those hands are. What is his or her life like? I want to meet the hands that make.
I want to know, is there a way to make clothing- a basic need after all- that helps people and contributes to society? Instead of just depleting resources and polluting places. So many amazing things are happening in USA-based production (locally sourced, locally crafted, conscious textile choices). What about internationally? How is garment manufacturing creating positive change in other countries?
In pursuit of contributing to humanity, I will begin in India- a powerhouse for international garment production- with Gramshree Trust. They are a nonprofit in Ahmedabad, Gujarat enabling women to support themselves by handcrafting clothing and home goods. The charity is linked with the artisan trade nonprofit Craftroots, as well as the "Living is Giving" Seva Cafe and, most importantly, Manav Sadhna, based in the Ghandi Ashram, serving local underprivileged communities. Excited to begin.