Day 2 - Fair Trade India Tour April 12 2014, 0 Comments

Managed to get about four hours of solid sleep before waking, I'll consider this a win for all the exoticness of this journey. Lying peacefully in bed awaiting the sun to rise we anticipate what our day has in store for us day. And, just like the day before, I hear the familiar screech of an eagle. We pull back our curtain to startle the Crested Serpent Eagle that obviously has a routine of hanging out on the fence just outside our window in the morning. I later learn that this is a common raptor throughout Northern India and not such a rare sight after all, but I still take it as another great start to the day!

Immediately following breakfast we boarded the bus to head to our morning visit to our first Fair Trade Artisan group, jewelry artisans in Old Delhi and partners of One World Fair Trade. We again arrived on the crowded streets of Old Delhi to an unassuming building to be greeted by a small, very gentle, quite man named Naseem, the director of this group.   He walked us through an alley, up the stairs to his home/workshop/showroom, occupied by him, his wife and two beautiful daughters. He explained to us that this group started with only 15 artisans and was on the verge of closing in 2008 due to lack of work and when of his daughters sent an email to SETU, explaining that her family and members of the community make jewelry, but are being mistreated by their few current employers. Seeing that Handmade Expressions sold jewelry similar to the jewelry her community makes, she found hope for future and fair employment. “When we seen your website we feeling there is someone in the world who can take care people like us.” she writes. That is when SETU and Handmade Expressions partnered with them and everything changed.

What began as a small artisan group working from tiny, congested work spaces in Old Delhi, is now a large community of 100+ artisans, mostly working from their own homes. Artisans using this facility as a coordination center for teaching, training, new design and often, a community work place for those who feel the need to get out of their home to work together as a group, a scenario we have found to be common to a lot of fair trade groups. We learned that they provides a substantial income to the artisans, 20-30% higher than market rate, allowing them to send their children to school instead of putting them to work, helping families one by one to climb not only out of poverty but climb the social ladder in a cast driven society.



Naseem showed obvious pride in his craft, family, home and workshop and is a role model for the community. He gleamed with pride as he showed us a room in his home that he recently converted into a showroom with walls of jewelry displayed to market to new buyers. We learned that the goal of SETU as partners was to encourage and assist their partners to market to others so that that no more than 50% of the production goes to SETU, creating independence.


We were introduced to a group of women artisans and watched as they skillfully assembled and created wearable works of art. Annette was invited by one of the female artisans to try her hand at the assembly of a pair of earrings, one of our favorites at One World Fair Trade. As Annette struggled with very small detail work her new "mentor" handed her a pair of magnifying glasses to complete the task.  We finished the visit with customary "tea" served to our entire group by Naseem's wife and daughters. We took a moment in the courtyard below where local children were playing cricket, to "click" pictures of both the artisan group and ours together before moving on to see his other workshop just a short walk away.


Here we watched as a master artisan crafted on a Adda Frame. Adda is a rectangular wood frame on which a sheet of leather is suspended from all four sides, looking like a small bed. The artisan then works directly on the piece from above and below, creating multiple leather cuff bracelets and belts, some that can take as long as 3 hrs. to complete a single bracelet or several days to complete all the projects on the entire frame.


We walked from the workshop through the streets of Old Delhi to a upscale restaurant, named "Broadway", complete with a Roaring 20's decor, including dark wood and tiffany lamps. The decor is was misleading as the traditional Indian food here was wonderful, complete with a cold Kingfisher lager to top it off, my little treat in a foreign world.

We climbed back aboard the bus to drive to Najibabad in the afternoon to visit our 2nd Fair Trade Artisan partner of One World Fair Trade, a cooperative of traditional Handloom Weavers using only materials made of natural dyes. After many hours of driving we found ourselves driving down small dirt roads to find a well-made weaving center, a very airy, two story red brick building, housing several workrooms, including dying, reeling, warping, loom setting and weaving.


We learned that this type of natural dye hand-weaving is unfortunately a dwindling art form. The amount of work and time reflects in the final price and with the international market becoming flooded with cost saving synthetic dyes, synthetic fabrics and machine production, handcrafted art like this will most likely end with this generation, soon only to be found as collector's items or in museums.


We learned that some large companies/corporations have exploited this group, sometimes placing large orders then canceling the purchase and demanding commissions to be paid, devastating such a small group now holding lots of material and product with no outlet. SETU takes a completely different approach as a fair trade wholesaler, placing very small orders at first for quality assurance and quality control. They work hard to give feedback to the group on changes if needed before placing large orders, paying as much as 30% up front to allow for production costs.

We watched the beautifully colored, naturally dyed thread was wrapped onto spools, them multiple colors of spools threaded to wheels then eventually going to looms for weaving. We were marveled by master weavers who worked the loom with a rhythmic fashion, almost meditative to those of us watching. This is not an easy art form, it can take as long as 20 days to complete the entire weaving process.


Fortunately, because of the work of SETU, this artisan group receives decent work orders to produce the woven fabric used in many of their handbags, wallets and linings for some of the leather journals. Before we departed we were invited to view a room of cancelled orders available for purchase. Most of our group bought several items, including rugs, bedcovers, tablecloths and napkins, giving a small boost to this small group.