Day 9 - Fair Trade India Tour April 27 2014, 0 Comments
We started the day with a visit to our 8th artisan group and longtime partner of One World Fair Trade named VJS, a Paper-making & Leather artisan workshop founded in 1999 by Jyoti, the sister of Manish and Rashmi. This was the first Fair Trade artisan group that Handmade Expressions worked with, established with a mission to create economic stability and to bring social change locally.
VJS now employs 110 artisans, both male and female, the division of labor based on skill level. Lead artisans will train on new products and projects every 2-5 months for a week long training at the facility, then go back and train others in their village, allowing most artisans to work from home.
We first toured the Leather workshops and watched as artisans embossed the leather with hammer and stamp. Water is used to soften the leather for stamping then dried with a blow-dryer. It is then stained with color and again blow dried. VJS sources their leather from a commercial government tannery. In India it is a criminal offense to kill a cow or buffalo so the tannery assures VJS that the leather is “cruelly free”, meaning from animals that have died a natural death, but because VJS cannot validate the origin of every piece of leather they receive they do not label it as such.
VJs only uses natural vegetable tanning, so the leather has a more natural look and some natural blemishes. All cows have imperfections on their hide and many pieces of leather have small holes. Only harsh chemicals treatments such a chromium tanning can make them disappear, therefore any natural, vegetable tanned leather will have character and will not be quite as soft.
One interesting concept is that the Hindi culture holds the cow sacred and historically anyone that worked with leather was considered an “Untouchable” and an outcast of their society. These “untouchables” usually made leather sandals and Hindu’s will purchase and wear but shun the producers. VJS not only employs these artisans but works to change the social structure and stigma associated with this work.
We toured the paper making workshops. A very clean, comfortable and well organized operation with a separate room for each stage of paper production including Embroidered Paper, Paper Box Making, Silk-screening, Paper Flower Making and Paper Bags. We learned that VJS employs 50-55 women from the slums of Jaipur to trim and clean the embroidered paper for retail sales. We also learned that VJS assists every artisan to open a bank account. If not married, they save for the wedding dowry and if married they save for their children. VJS, fellow artisans and fellow villages all contribute to each other to fill the need.
Recycled based cotton is made into a pulp and pressed to make their fine and soft paper. The glue used in making the journals, paper flowers, box making and paper bags is made of only corn flour and water. All cardboard used in manufacturing is 100% recycled.
We were treated to tea as we toured their showroom before departing this wonderful operation.
We left VJS to have lunch and head to SETU’s headquarters for a tour and recap on all that we have experienced on our Fair Trade tour. We arrived at SETU, Handmade Expressions India Branch and were introduced to only part of the team as many were away celebrating Holi, a spring festival also known as the festival of colors and the festival of love. We had spent many days seeing first hand just how much SETU has done to change small villages for the better and it was an honor to be here in person. To quote Manish, "Charity is a luxury for those who want just to feel good, but empowerment gives true dignity" and this defines SETU.
We toured the workshop downstairs from the home of Devendra & Rashmi Dhariwal, where employees demonstrated and explained the quality control and quality assurance procedure in place. We sat on the floor, leaning against boxes of rejects and reflected on our artisan visits.
Following discussions, we all got ready for the big celebration that Handmade Expressions and SETU had prepared for us this evening. We all changed into our new, traditional Indian clothing and retreated to the courtyard where we were treated to festive decorations, lights in the trees, music and Henna artists. Manish delivered a nice presentation on standards and impact of Handmade Expressions. Then the party started, modern Indian music pumping and a pizza guys delivering more pizzas than all could eat because it was decided that we all had enough Indian food for the trip! Then, when we thought we had seen it all, a award winning Bollywood dance instructor arrived getting everyone to dance and teaching a few simple steps, moves and routines.
This was a wonderful celebration and the perfect way to end our Fair Trade Tour in India. We have experienced so much in a short time all over Northern India. We have seen firsthand the dedication of several key individuals that have made it their lifetime work to create and lead organizations that impact the lives of so many in such a positive way. One World Fair Trade is proud and honored to partner with these several mission-driven organizations to help change and transform our global economy and protect our people and planet.
It was the hard work of many that made this Fair Trade journey possible and I am grateful to all that contributed, including our wonderful travel companions. I sincelerly thank our hosts, Manish Gupta from Handmade Expressions, Devendra Dhariwal, Rashmi Dhariwal, Katharine Harlow, Anjali Tanwar and Riya Sharma from SETU, our travel coordinator, Kelly Campbell from The Village Experience and local travel guide, Harshit Nagar.