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Fair Trade Jewelry and Ethical Fashion

Meet India’s Next Generation of Ancient Block Print Artisans

by | Artisans

Meet India's Next Generation of Ancient Block Print Artisans

In small villages on the outskirts of Jaipur, Artisans in India continue to pass down the ancient art of block printing to the next generation. – (Read Time: 5 min.)

The Ancient Art of Block Printing

In large fire-heated kettles, villagers boil onions, tree bark, pomegranates, and other local plants to create their ancestors’ traditional natural plant dyes.

Dipping hand-carved wooden blocks into the dyes, Artisans repeatedly stamp small patterns across long sheets of fabric to create a continuous design. When every layer of a design is complete, the fabric is hand-washed in boiling water and hung to dry in the sun.

Meet Kalawati

Kalawati takes pride in preserving the traditions of her ancestors. While poverty and modernization challenge many traditional Artisans in India, she is able to earn fair wages while continuing to practice ancient block printing methods.

Every handcrafted Patrika Scarf provides her with opportunities to invest in her family’s health, education, and dream of owning a home.

As Kalawati teaches her skills to younger Artisans, together they can preserve their village’s Artisan traditions while providing sustainable futures for the next generation.

Meet Akash & Rabia!

Akash and Rabia are two young Millenials who became best friends while going to school to study fashion design. Together, they decided to create a workshop where older Artisans could continue using India’s time-honored traditions of handcrafting leather and block printing while passing their skills on to the next generation. They created an Artisan community where other young Millenials, like Afsar, can learn India’s most treasured Artisan traditions.

Meet Afsar!

Afsar smiles and partially covers her face, peeking over the top of the wallet she just made.

Eighteen years old, she is young and beautiful… and painfully shy. In spite of her timid nature, she has commanded the attention of everyone in the room. Her craftsmanship is surprising for someone so young and seemingly insecure.

Our interpreter asks Afsar to tell us about herself. Speaking barely above a whisper, she musters up the courage to tell us she lives with her mother, father, two sisters, and brother.

That’s it. That’s her story. Then suddenly, Afsar’s face lights up, as the interpreter explains that Afsar wants to thank us for her “fine wages” and for giving her employment.To the average person, that may not sound like a big deal.

But for those of us who know that Afsar lives in India – home to one-fourth of the world’s poorest people*- where for thousands of years, their caste system divided people into classes and discriminated against women while forbidding the intermingling of classes – and in spite of being outlawed, this ancient social system is still deeply ingrained in much of India’s traditional communities… it’s a big deal.

Experienced Artisans Are Passing Down Their Knowledge

For generations, people who were born into poverty in India expected to live their entire lives in poverty. Until now…

As previous generations pass down thousands of years of ancient Artisan techniques to the next generation, Millennials are breaking cycles of generational poverty by breaking the rules of India’s traditional caste system. Young men and women – regardless of their class – are becoming Entrepreneurs and Artisans.

They’re creating beautiful designs, like our block-printed leather Merit Wallet and Merit Tote. Their block printing and leather crafting businesses are providing dignified work for Afsar and others in her community, who are learning to dream for the first time in their lives… for the first time in generations.

Meet Pooja!

Imagine that you’re a young woman living in India – home to over one-fourth of the world’s poorest people.* You live in a rural village, in a culture where many girls are traditionally discouraged from pursuing education or careers. You’re completely dependent on the financial support of a male relative to meet your most basic needs.

If something happens to him, without an education, your best option for survival is likely working in a sweatshop or as a house servant.

As a vulnerable young woman, you’re also a prime target for human traffickers.

Pooja, one of our newest Artisan partners in India, doesn’t have to imagine what it’s like to live like this.

This is her reality, “I don’t have a father. My father passed away quite a while ago. So, it’s my mother, my brother, and me.” – Pooja, Artisan in India

But her work as a fair-trade Artisan is changing that. She credits her work – handcrafting block printed leather bags – for changing her world.

“It gives me a stable income throughout the year. Without worrying, I’m able to support my family and most importantly, pay for my brother’s education.”

– Pooja, Artisan in India

She also shared the impact her work, as an Artisan, has on her family, “It gives us a regular and a steady income. It gives us a sense of job security.”

For women, like Kalawati, Afsar, and Pooja, these opportunities for dignified sustainable employment are providing food where there is lack, power where there is vulnerability, and hope where there is fear.

* Worldbank.org

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Kathy Thomas

Kathy Thomas

Kathy Thomas is an inspirational writer with a passion for helping women discover and celebrate their unique gifts and abilities. Kathy is part of the Communications Team at Trades of Hope focusing on Artisan advocacy.