currentMood visits Grassroot’s craft collective in Bakutra, Gujarat.
Anita Dongre is known for her eponymous bridal label, her craftsmanship, and most importantly, her attempt to steer fashion towards sustainability and empowering artisans along the way. Over the last few years I’ve adopted a greener lifestyle and have become conscious and curious of eco-warriors like Anita who’ve built a business that promotes sustainability. So when I was invited to visit her craft unit a few kilometres away from Ahmedabad, Gujarat and witness the magic happen, I was stoked.
“Our long term vision is to provide sustainable work to artisans and bring back respect and dignity to them.” – Anita Dongre
I landed in Ahmedabad in the wee hours of the morning and headed straight to breakfast, where I met Anita and she spoke about why she launched Grassroot, “It was born out of the need to provide steady opportunities to India’s skilled artisan communities, to translate heirloom traditions from the heart of Indian villages into contemporary sustainable fashion,” she explained. “We work with artisans in rural India to bring employment back to the villages and reverse the effects of labour migration by embracing designs and craft traditions that go back generations. Our long term vision is to provide sustainable work to artisans and bring back respect and dignity to them.”
We drove down to Bakutra, a village 221kms from Ahmedabad, Gujarat. – home to some of the artisans who work for Anita’s ready-to-wear sustainable line, Grassroot. I watched the high-rise buildings give way to arid land, forming the perfect visual for my psybient playlist. We reached our destination 5 hours later and were welcomed by Gauri ben, one of the earliest members of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) that works closely with Grassroot. After a small traditional ceremony performed with turmeric and rice, a group of young girls ushered us onto the porch where we sat around a few native women who narrated stories of their life as we were offered lunch.
“SEWA helped me earn money from my embroidery work and our lives changed.” – Gauri ben
They spoke about the difficulties they faced while growing up as they had access to limited resources. Hence they understood the value of preservation and sustainability early on and employ ingenious ways of making do with what they have. Due to the scarcity of water, villagers don’t wash their clothes but dry them out in the harsh 41c heat which rids the fabric of any sweat or stench and bleaches the colours over time. Gauri ben told us about how embroidery has always been a part of her family’s legacy and her mother taught her the craft. “Before I became a member of SEWA, I used to walk several miles a day just to fetch clean drinking water. Our land was mortgaged and we could barely afford two meals a day,” she said. “SEWA helped me earn money from my embroidery work and our lives changed. We could pay off our debts, buy cattle and equipment for our farms! The recognition they’ve given me..inspires me to work harder for the cause.”
“I see the sense of pride these women feel when they start making money; they’ve tasted freedom and it’s so important for them to have money that’s their own. It’s a total game changer,” – Anita Dongre.
As a brand, Grassroot understood the importance of economic empowerment for women. Through a network of NGOs including SEWA, they’ve hired 1200 women who are skilled at various kinds of embroidery, ranging from Aari, Kantha and Chikankari to name a few. They’re also masters of handloom weaves like Jamdani, Ikkat, Chanderi, and the list goes on. At present the label has about 3000 people on payroll and employs 15,000 people through indirect sources. Since its inception in 2015, they’ve opened a store in New York, bringing this craft to the global front. “I see the sense of pride these women feel when they start making money; they’ve tasted freedom and it’s so important for them to have money that’s their own. It’s a total game changer,” explains Anita.
Post lunch the women performed a folk dance that made their colourful skirts twirl to the beat of traditional drums. I was mesmerised by the sheer joy on their faces as they set aside their troubles and celebrated life through this dance. It was then that I understood what made these clothes so special – they radiated the life and soul of these women.
+ Anita Dongre Grassroot SS18
+ Anita Dongre Grassroot SS18
Weaving Magic: Vaishali S
‘Madanottsava’ – a bridal handloom collection in support of artisans and weavers, by designer Vaishali Shadangule.
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