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In Conversation with: the United Artisans of Kutch

In 2015, I had the absolute pleasure of meeting and spending a few days with Kuldip Gadhvi, through his award-winning responsible tourism business Kutch Adventures India. He took us on an incredible trip through the rural region of Kutch, Gujarat and enabled us to visit some artisans in small villages amid the vast grasslands and desert. He also now collaborates with artisans as part of the United Artisans of Kutch project, supporting small-scale, traditional craftspeople to market their work, maintain a livelihood through their heritage skills and preserve the unique culture of the area. I asked some questions to Kuldip and Haresh Manodhiya, the weaver who's colourful handwoven scarves are featured in the Handloom Room (which I am so overjoyed about!). I am delighted to be able to share with you this very special interview...

What is the significance of handweaving to you and the Kutch area?

Handweaving has been our cultural identity for several generations. In fact we are known as "Weavers" even if some of us do not weave anymore. Weaving and some other traditional crafts/knowledge/skills comes next after farming and cattle rearing. It has been part of our civilization at least for 10000 years or even more. Lot of people in Kutch have been wearing various types of hand woven clothes before textile looms/machines were invented. Today weaving - along with few other traditional crafts - is one of the reasons why visitors come to Kutch.

Are there any meanings or stories attached to the patterns that you create?

Indeed. Some of the patterns represent daily life that contains farming, religious symbols and some everyday scenes or objects. However many of our traditional designs are so old that one can never confirm what they mean, how long they have been used or where exactly they come from. It is as complex as how any civilization formed in the first place. Various factors including geography, religion, cultural practices, various skills and their never ending evolution from time to time, from person to person, all play a part.

What does a normal weaving day look like? Do you have people helping you?

A normal weaving day starts after morning routine, at around 8 or 9 am and it changes season to season. It involves almost every family member of the weaver because weaving involves warping, spinning, filling bobbins, setting a loom, starching yarns, occasional dyeing, actual weaving on the loom, finishing, washing, etc.

In between the process, the weaver will be sipping chai, attending neighbours, visitors, daily routine of vegetable or grocery shopping, occasional festivals, family visitors and family problems. Usually a young weaver starts full time weaving from age of 16-18 and works most of their life (50+ years) and then retires gradually. Women do a lot of house work, cooking, looking after children their involvement in weaving varies from family to family. Regardless, there are some tasks such as filling bobbins, starching, warping the yarn and finishing woven products that are usually done by women in Kutch.

Has the practice of weaving in Kutch changed in recent times?

Yes, since the Earthquake of 2001, a lot of things have changed in Kutch including weaving, for the following reasons. There are new factories and other industries where some traditional weavers and artisans are now working. School education has become more necessary for many children (including weavers) which means they are no longer obliged to become a weaver like their fathers and forefathers, who never had access to education or choices. There is a growth in the tourism industry here in Kutch which has made hand loom weaving and other traditional crafts more profitable. Those who are continuing to weave as a businesses are making a good living out of it.

In addition, the internet has opened up the market and created the possibility to learn new colours and designs. Weaving has evolved and creative work is ever increasing, now some weavers are dealing with big fashion designers and international clients which never happened before in the history of this area. Altogether the future of weaving is much brighter as long as people continue to understand the importance of this traditional knowledge and skill.

Tell us about using organic cotton and natural dyes - is there a resurgence happening in Kutch?

Yes, in the past 20 years more and more customers have become aware of organic cotton, its benefit to nature as well as to humans - both those who are involved in the farming and the people who wear the products. It is still in revival stages at the moment, so it is most popular among people who value and understand the chain. There is a long way to go before it becomes everyone's cup of tea, and before everyone can afford to buy organic cotton products. Non organic cotton (GM) is still dominating and use of petrochemical fertilizers is still huge and impacting our water, earth and air.

*You can see Haresh's beautiful organic collection here

How have you been affected by the pandemic?

The pandemic has affected us badly because there has been no tourism this year, no festivals or events. This means there has been no demand for textiles and in India every community is so big (population wise) that the pandemic has affected everyone who makes their living out of tourism or handicrafts. Fortunately some international clients/friends have been purchasing, placing small orders to support us and keep us going. Since October, the Indian market has been improving for many businesses, so people have been happy to start earning again after long halt. But it will take long time to completely recover from the loss we have experienced because of the pandemic and also the post lockdown impact.

What's your top tip for other weavers?!

Top tip for other weavers is do not stop weaving because it's a rare skill and gift that the world needs badly. Human existence on Earth can be less violent or stressful if we could maintain number of farmers, cattle breeders, traditional knowledge and skilled workers because in future these people are the only hope for sustaining mankind during/after any disasters, whether natural or man-made.

Do you have any other comments to share?

Thanks for inviting us to share our views, and understanding and supporting us in the most humane and friendly way that any business must never forget. After all, we all are humans and our future generations will learn from how we are dealing with one another. So let's set a beautiful example for the world.

With Love and Peace,

Kuldip Gadhvi & Haresh Manodhiya

(United Artisans of Kutch)

Haresh working at the loom

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