WYNAD Clothing – the social enterprise that my partner Hannah and I have set up here in India to create ethical clothing collections for UK customers – is currently working on building up our supplier network, ensuring that each supplier we work with aligns with our values around sustainability, equality and fairness.
After spending a few nights in Ahmedabad (north west of the country) meeting with an organic cotton trader we make our way back south to Bangalore. Our final supplier meeting is one we’re really excited about. Tharangini Block Printing Studio are a block printing collective based in the north of the city and we're engaging with them to see if we could produce some pieces for WYNAD Clothing with them.
What is block printing?
Block printing is a form of textile printing which dates back to 200AD in China. Shapes and patterns are expertly carved into pieces of wood which in turn are dipped in natural dye and then used to print onto fabric. It’s used to create all sorts of wonderful garments and textiles with beautiful, intricate designs and we’d really like to see whether our designs for the WYNAD Clothing Spring/Summer 2018 collection could become a reality through this form of printing.
With the advent of the industrial revolution, which saw screen printing and printing machines replace more traditional handicraft, enabling larger quantities to be produced at cheaper costs, the traditional method of block printing has decreased rapidly.
In India at least, it’s an art form which is now practiced by just a handful of artisans who are scattered across the country. Whilst the method of block printing is more labour intensive, and requires a high level of skill, the effect it gives a piece of fabric is undeniably beautiful with each piece truly becoming an individual and unique piece of art.
Tharangini is one of those few remaining collectives where artisans practice block printing. Run by the lovely Padmini and her devoted team of artisans, it truly is an oasis of calm in one of India’s busiest cities.
After a tour of the studio, meeting some of the team and learning about some of their innovative dye recipes (they create natural dyes for printing, using ingredients such as pomegranate peel and turmeric root, rather than chemical dyes that are typically used by other clothing manufacturers), we sit with Padmini for a short chat over Chai.
What strikes me is how people-centric Tharangini is. Padmini explains that there is “no real hierarchy” in the company and that they all share the same mission: to keep the ancient art of block printing going.
Whilst they are Fair Trade accredited it seems that they go way beyond any of the criteria. Profit sharing, bonuses, training and development, community engagement are all things Padmini talks about as if they are the norm in every business.
We finish our conversation by looking at some of our print designs and assessing which ones are eligible for block printing. We decide to test them all and commission our five prints to be carved into our own, unique blocks. In Bangalore there are currently only four block carvers left in the entire city so we figure we should do our bit for the craft.
As we leave, I feel confident that the business we’ve met over the last 10 days represent everything that RG Foundation stands for. They are compassionate, innovative, determined and in some cases extremely raw. What connects them all is their humanity and their courage to stand up for what they believe is right in an industry littered with short cuts and pitfalls.
Once our samples are ready and production begins it will be their people, as well as us, who will have benefited from this grant. If we are able to make WYNAD Clothing an ongoing success, then long may that continue.