Innovation and Design at Bagru Textiles
“ In 2009, Union College in New York offered me a 21 day term abroad to India, when I visited Bagru with an anthropologist. Artisans gave us a tour of printing in Namdev Krishan Farm. I was amazed to see these handmade textiles that were selling for 100s and 1000s of dollars being made by people who did not even have appropriate living conditions. I thought I wanted to build a network and create a digital presence for this community to cut middlemen and open doors for them to a market that would be of fair trade.” - Jeremy - Co founder, Studio Bagru
On a recent trip to jaipur, we met with Jeremy at his studio to understand his motivations to run an enterprise that marries textiles and travel and has managed to truly revive and flourish block printing.
Start of Journey
Through a grant, I started this social entrepreneurial venture . i wanted to start an entity that would allow more direct commerce for these artisans.Even though there was global trade of this product, the artisans were made labourers as they didn’t have any ownership of design. The demand from larger enterprises that are mediating the exchange of goods lead to loss of art.
I moved to Bagru in 2010 June and made a company with Vijendra Chipa of Bagru Textiles. Bagru started as tumbler page and we started to sell on Etsy. We were overwhelmed by the response we got and we knew we had to restructure to meet this demand. Another grant recipient came to help and we registered as a private limited company and got an export license. We began working with big USA retailers like ABC home, Cisco brothers, Anthropologie soon to create products that involved better wages and design involvement. We were published in my university magazine and one thing led to another and we got another grant to take things forward. Block Shop and Seek collective are brands that are conscious of socially responsible sourcing.
We use pigment printing for innovation and natural printing is possible in black and red. But it’s limited. With natural printing we need more water and that’s not possible in our village. We save water, and use the waste is disposed in an eco way. We are trying to develop a renewable water recycling plant as well. We do up-cycle the waste fabric into products.
In 2012, I moved back to the USA for my MBA and then I did get to work with a large USA based sourcing company who placed me in hong kong to source Victoria Secret bras. I wanted to see the other side of things after working on the grass root. I did a stint in Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to do factory audits and product development for large retailers and soon i found myself again in india in 2015. Davis cutter, now 6th generation grant receipt, scaled the vision of Bagru textiles.
We have started to wholesale and sell directly to customers through our studio. We work with people in Australia like imprinted stories, who works with a group of women in our farm to design develop. We are organising design workshops with these women so they can gain their lost design rights. Tours and workshops have become a big part of what we do to connect people to this crafts. We are changing the sourcing model too now. We do work on design education and we encourage our partners to the technical sheet and know their product and the limitations of techniques.
Evolving into he contemporary spaces, more experience interacting with international designers has led to improvisation and development of our artisans. They are now more open to experimentation and open their minds. This has led to design awareness. I want studio Bagru to be the facilitator and educational and also document the design and culture development that is happening now. People are using our traditional designs and calling them their own, so i feel these big brands need to be responsible. Fashion revolution is encouraging consumer to think about their purchasing habits.
I see studio Bagru playing the role of a Business catalyst, encouraging entrepreneurial growth, helping artisans become better business owners. Fair trade is a focus too. Earlier artisans were paid Rs, 7-10 per meter and now it’s 100 +. Artisans have also realised the value as they are more digital savvy. People were focussing on high volume, but now it's more about quality. Most of the artisan community is made of Chipa people, these are traditional printers, but there are also people outside of the community that printing. The younger generation is more excited now as there is more employment for sure. Makers are happy to interact and welcome people and interact to sustain in this day and age.