This is the first in our Multi- Part Series Entitled
Working in India: Context Sensitive Production
Mehera Shaw is at the beginning phase of implementing our own dyeing and printing unit. We are quite excited about the having our own unit. Our plans include solid color dyeing, screen printing using reactive dyes and block printing using pigment dyes. We also intend to include water recycling and filtration in our printing and dyeing program.
The road toward our own unit has been long and circuitous. Our plans have been several years in the making, our motivations many and all context-sensitive.
To date, we have chosen to work with the different facilities and people in the nearby areas of Sanganeer and Bagru. We choose to work with units who exemplify improvements to the overall system, philosophical approach, environmental and humanitarian standards. The units we work with are artisan units.
Our unit will also be an artisan unit. This is a consideration both of volume and context. Artisan units work in smaller volumes than industrialized, high-tech units which are able to afford climate control, water treatment and industrial levels of infrastructure.
The artisan units we currently work with employ semi-skilled laborers, or artisans, in open-air facilities that provide ventilated work spaces, maintain a village way of life, offer regular employment, positive working conditions and a livelihood to this class of laborers. They maintain an orderly, systematic printing process, respectful treatment of their workers and are a necessary part of India’s artisan-level economy.
To date, we have chosen who we work with based on these positive features. We also see there is much room for improvement generally in the dyeing and printing situation, with both environmental and labour concerns. While the units we work with use AZO free, low impact dyes and an improved environmental standard, the working context has limited to no externally infrastructure to handle water filtration or recycling. Historically too, the class of semi-skilled labourers do not have a voice or long-term job security.
To change and improve these issues, we recognize the need to work within the cultural and environmental context. Mehera Shaw is focused on ‘people centered development’; it is one of our core values as a company. We are a fair trade company whose mission includes grassroots initiatives and supporting Gandhian principles of self-sufficiency, civil rights for all, respectful treatment and caste/class/religious/ethnic non-discriminatory working conditions. We support cottage industries, artisan-made textiles, decentralized production. It is from this perspective, that we choose to work with artisans and artisan textiles. And it is from this layered, context-sensitive perspective that we firmly believe any lasting, sustainable change must be at a grassroots level--achievable by the people themselves.
Within this perspective, we see that water filtration and recycling is a must. For this reason, we are developing our own unit as an exemplary, showcase model, for achieving this. Here too, we intend to implement a water treatment program which would then be affordable and achievable for other similar units. A system which can operate at a grassroots, artisan level and improve the quality of people’s lives as well as the environmental impact of this industry. We see an enormous, ongoing value in supporting small-scale industry in open-air conditions which can then offer low minimums to customers, consistent employment to artisans and increase the quality and value of artisan textiles. We also see the significance of doing this project in such as way that it retains its artisan base. If, for example, money were no issue and we were able to implement a fully climate controlled building with developed world infrastructure, this would in the end also not improve the situation for the community at large and would not send a positive message to the many other units in the area. It would be so far beyond the reach of other units as to stand outside the culture. We aim to be a positive influence, affecting lasting environmental and livelihood improvements for the area as a whole. In meeting this goal, we will proceed in developing grassroots level solutions to water filtration and recycling.
On the labour and humanitarian side, we aim to join with our registered non-profit Foundation, Mehera Shw Foundation Trust, to be a resource/teaching centre for other units and for customers who want to understand more about artisan textiles, their inherent beauty and the reality of the conditions for those producing them. This awareness-building campaign is equally as important to us as it is about improving quality of life, building bridges across cultures and finding people-centered, sustainable solutions.
We intend to develop our awareness campaign further to include a series of workshops which we can offer to both artisans on the production side, and to customers (both wholesale and end retail) to improve cross-cultural understanding and appreciation.
Hand in hand with being a resource is the concept of teaching through example. Artisans historically have been subject to unfair discriminatory practices in India’s informal economy. They are part of a marginalized community who do not have opportunities for improvement and employment stability. As a fair trade company, we have a strong policy of non-discrimination, living wages, loans for family emergencies and education, full health-care and medical coverage for all household members, a safe and clean working environment, job security and the ability to speak for oneself without fear.
We envision our unit to be a sustainable platform for artisan printing and dyeing of natural fibre textiles (organic and fair trade cotton, handloom (khadi) fabrics including cotton, silk and wool), a platform for improved water treatment, renewal energy, preservation of artisan textile crafts and and a resource centre for both sides of the supply chain.
Mehera Shaw has mapped out a plan and time frame for achieving Dyeing/printing unit with water treatment.
Step 1: contract the unit itself
Step 2: have all basic infrastructure in working condition--water and electrical availability, concrete platforms, piping
Step 3: purchase and set up dyeing machinery
Step 4: set up printing area
Step 5: crowdfunding campaign for water treatment
Step 6: water recycling and filtration
Step 7: seek out renewal energy solutions
Steps 1, 2 are completed
Step 3 is in process, proposed completion by April 2014
Step 4: by April 2014
Step 5: launch by April 2014
Step 6: proposed completion by July 2014
Mehera Shaw is putting together a short, introductory video and crowdfunding platform later this spring. We will be happy to share the video to all our customers for educational purposes. We are also seeking the support of our customers in networking and spreading the word once we launch our crowdfunding campaign so that we have every chance of meeting our funding goals and developing our sustainable and educational platform.