10/21/2019 Update: Indigenous Industries is no longer operational and we are no longer working with them.
During our time in India we stopped by four cities, one of which was Ahmedabad – home to Indigenous Industries, our artisan partners who created our latest range of natural dye tops. While we were there, we got a closer look at the process behind our tops; from the materials and colours, to the people who made them. We were only there for 3 days, but quickly found kinship in the values that ground both our missions.
Indigenous Industries began from a friendship rooted in a love for textiles and craft. With a shared desire to discover and bring back ancient techniques, they decided to travel the roads of India and ended their journey by starting a workshop in Ahmedabad. Their focus is on natural dyes, but they’ve also expanded to include other techniques like block printing, batik printing, hand painting, bandhani, jamdani, embroidery, ajrakh printing, and hand knitting.
Here are 5 questions asked, and answered by Vincent and Aadil of Indigenous Industries.
What is the inspiration behind ‘Indigenous Industries’?
We believe not only how but where products are made matters. Each culture has its own craft heritage and its own skills. There is no indigenous community developed without craft and vice versa, the two are intimately linked. When we look at a finished Indian fabric, we often learn its origins too; where it has been spun, woven, printed, and dyed.
The name Indigenous Industries came from a will to put forward all indigenous communities’ relationship with crafts. We do what we do because we want to become a haven for artisans and hopefully bring some lasting prosperity to the communities we work with.
What was the journey that brought you to this industry?
Aadil: It started with my mother. As a teenager, I loved playing with fabrics, to see things made from wastage. My mother is an embroidery master, an expert in patchwork and cutwork and she would teach it to me. She ran a small boutique and would work late, sometimes until 1am. Even as she’s watching TV, her attention would still be on an embroidery she’s working on. It quickly became my passion just as much as it was hers. I worked with a textile institute, and over a project I met a woman from Italy who was a natural dye expert. She was 72 years old at the time and she trained me in the traditional way of the craft. From then, I’ve had a great interest in natural dyes. I tried getting back in touch with her years after and never heard back, but I am always missing her. The devotion and passion she had for the craft reminded me so much of my mother.
Vincent: I always had an interest in sustainable development, and knew I wanted to do something that had a social impact. I discovered natural dyes when I reached India and I found beauty more in its handcrafted aspect rather than the environmental aspect. The idea that this is cultural heritage done by hand really drew me in, there was such a deeply rooted human dimension to this craft and what was so mesmerising for me was seeing how many lives are behind one piece of garment. You never stop discovering the artisans behind it, one piece of clothing can go through so many hands before they reach yours. I figured this is where I want to be, I wanted to be a part of something that put forward people usually in the back.
Why natural dye?
Natural dyeing firstly is to keep alive traditions which are thousands of years old. Less than two hundred years ago the whole world still wore natural dyes every day. Today the few who still know how to dye naturally often work with chemicals because they can not manage to find a demand for their skill. We’re proud to be helping in the conservation of the craft.
Natural dyeing also allows for small quantities, for work by hand. And we’re very glad to be able to provide employment and a safe environment to our dyers, for them to be able to carry their families’ skills forward and express themselves with something they feel proud and strongly about.
Lastly, for the love of colours, which we do not believe can be reproduced with petrochemical based dyes, even with digital dye mixing technology. It remains one of the most sustainable dyeing option out there. And also just because it is nice to think that, for once, we get to wear something that is not made from petrol!
As much as possible we prefer natural dye, it brings so much character to the fabric. There is no industrial perfection here. With handmade craft, we have to leave room for imperfections, it’s all a part of its beauty.
How do you see Indigenous Industries growing?
Currently, our team is mostly men. Although we would like to balance the ratio, it is hard for women to join the workshop (due to cultural reasons), especially if it includes a longer travel time. The dream is to go to where they’re comfortable, to build a house or workshop space in their neighbourhood where they can come to find work while continuing the craft. On a smaller scale, we’ve moved to a new workshop space recently and something we would really love to do is get a projector and make room for a makeshift cinema of our own here. That way, our community can bring their families and spend them with them here too. We’d also really like to create an avenue where we can give our team grants for their children to go to school.
At the heart of it, we want to foster a creative environment that encourages our team to be proud of what they do.
We put framed photos of our clients in our products, and it’s a daily reminder for our community to remember the impact they make. Beyond providing higher living wages and paying them fairly, we hope our team feels a sense of pride in what they do in acknowledgement of its importance.
What do you hope for the industry of craft in Asia?
For it to be rural. The craft sector needs to provide jobs to artisans where they live. Agglomerating artisans under big corporations in cities will not do much to elevate their living standards, or their spirit. We hope that craftsmen can find market exposure and fair remuneration for their work from their homes.
Shop the natural dye tops here.