A group of rural artisans in the remote Indian Himalayas are truly fascinated by their cellular phones. Unlike most people who are obsessed with taking selfies, these artisans are looking at how best they can use the phone camera to showcase their skill of handcrafting textiles for our Amsterdam-based fashion brand KARIGAR (meaning ‘artisan’ in Hindi).
Throughout KARIGAR’s production value chain, technology is used to empower both artisan and consumer by documenting and sharing of stories. When we first started creating our handcrafted fashion textiles for the international market in 2015, we, the founders of KARIGAR, gifted our chief artisans with smartphones. Not only was it our way of tracking and spotting errors in dyeing or weaving early in the production stage, it also allowed us to document every stage of the creation process and share it with the world.
When faced with questions on how our scarves and stoles were made, the materials used and the safe/fair working environment of our craftspeople, we chose to answer their consumers visually. The KARIGAR products come with a hangtag or a Talking Tag which has a unique QR code. When scanned using a smartphone, the QR code takes consumers to a page where they can see these videos and images and get a behind-the-scenes look into the painstaking production process of their unique handmade products. They can comment on the page or even share the page, if they like what they see! Being able to share this information with ease and/or leaving a personal message for the artisans using this page is something we’ve encouraged our consumers to do.
By connecting conscious and curious global consumers to the undiscovered world of their artisans, we want to create awareness about the amazing journey that each product has made before ending up in your wardrobe.
So how does taking pictures during the production of our textiles make KARIGAR a sustainable business? What we discovered was that previously, if the product was for example, designed using a specific colour but the yarn ended up being dyed a slightly different shade during the creation process, the error was only picked up after delivery – after numerous pieces had already been made. This resulted in higher rejection and waste. While we consciously shy away from industrial technology or machines in our production process, we’ve used the power of digital technology to reduce waste and enhance productivity. Seeing the product come alive step by step, and by knowing the people in the entire supply chain, we found it easier to spot errors (either dyeing, weaving or even finishing) early in the process and were also able to reduce the rework in the painstaking process of creating our handmade products.
But most importantly, by giving our artisans smartphones, we gave these skilled individuals a sense of ownership and pride in their work. No longer was the production of the KARIGAR textiles just a simple transaction of delivering goods and receiving the money. It was about trust and sharing. It was about respect for their work and the desire to share the traditional art of handloom with the world. KARIGAR was co-creating beauty along with it’s team of artisans. With this simple act of taking a photograph, everyone has become a part of the creation process.
Text: Kanak Hirani Nautiyal
Photos: Marloes van Doorn