Textual content by Shirin Mehta. Pictures by Mallika Chandra and Asad Sheikh.
One of many finalists of the fourth version of the Round Design Problem (CDC) at FDCI x Lakmé Style Week, Chamar by Sudheer Rajbhar, stood out for its modern gender-neutral purses, backpacks and belts – all common out of recycled rubber gathered from discarded tyres. Handcrafted by Dharavi-based leatherworkers and cobblers – who belong to the Dalit group and have been hit arduous by the Maharashtra state authorities’s controversial 2015 beef ban – the merchandise showcase their often-unacknowledged crafts heritage.
On the coronary heart of Chamar is the search to supply a supply of livelihood to an oppressed, under-represented artisan group and convey them into the mainstream. The collaboration brings forth a set of distinctive and cruelty-free utilitarian choices that cuts throughout seasons, social and non secular conditioning, and genders, urging customers to make acutely aware selections within the identify of trend and artwork.
Excerpts from a dialog with Rajbhar, the artist-activist who based Chamar….
Do you’re feeling that initiatives just like the CDC assist the business to maneuver in the direction of sustainability and acutely aware residing? How do they assist in creating consciousness amongst contributors in addition to customers?
Personally, I recognize the initiative, preserving in thoughts that sustainability is not only materials invention or assemblage but additionally a world system rooted in sustaining the individuals who craft. The opposite vital elements are materials innovation and, notably, its sturdiness; the top use and the life cycle of the product; combating in opposition to overconsumption; making one assortment a 12 months most; and the creation of helpful merchandise that aren’t trend-based however intemporal classics that may final many years.
The caste system permeates Indians’ social consciousness and stays entrenched in a number of spheres…. What was the response of the leatherworkers in the direction of the model identify and identification, given the widespread utilization of Chamar, a linguistic bastardisation alluding to the Chamar Dalit group, as a pejorative time period?
The caste system is an inhuman system of exploitation that enables energy to be held with a choose group of individuals whereas the toiling plenty are compelled into their servitude. The Chamars or leatherworkers are relegated to the bottom echelons of society and compelled to work as scavengers who eliminate useless animals with out being paid their dues. I work with anti-caste actions, and Chamar started when the meat ban in Maharashtra additional exacerbated the marginalisation of Dharavi-based leatherworkers by robbing them of the uncooked supplies they desperately wanted to maintain their livelihoods. Chamar is a derogatory time period that’s generally used throughout India. Lately, the group has labored to clear up misconceptions and instil a way of respect across the time period. The artisans are naturally eager for self-respect; they aren’t ashamed of their vocation and noticed my efforts as an act of self-affirmation and respect.
How is the model working to herald modifications within the collective outlook and mindset in the direction of caste and sophistication inside Indian society?
In India, caste and sophistication proceed to be a difficulty. As an example, it’s extraordinarily prevalent in Delhi, the place I’m presently based mostly. Though part of the shopper base could discover it uncomfortable to affiliate with the model identify Chamar, given our social conditioning, the social connotations and associations with the time period inside the nation are usually not carried ahead to the worldwide luxurious trend sphere. For a foreigner, Chamar simply seems like Chanel or Shalimar; in Portuguese, it means “to name”, in French, it’s a phrase used to explain an object as vibrant. This showcases how phrases tackle totally different meanings inside particular person cultures. Trauma in our tradition is triggered by human behaviour and historical past. Utilizing Chamar because the model identify was a technique to take this phrase out of the circle of disgrace, to pleasure. Our merchandise and aesthetic are neat, inventive, well-finished and of nice worth, due to the abilities of the artisans. We’re proud to see Indians carrying this brand. They’re stating their open-mindedness by this act.
Why is it no more extensively recognized that Dalits have historically been concerned in expert handicrafts?
Indian leatherworkers are usually not as extensively revered as the opposite leather-based craftsmen on the planet. Pushed by a sure dichotomy, Indians reject their native artisans as a result of they work with cow leather-based, whilst they fly to far-flung trend centres recognized for luxurious leather-based items – like Florence – to purchase a high-end calfskin luxurious bag upwards of 6,000 euros. In Paris, artisans are praised and given pleasure of place in devoted exhibitions at museums just like the Émile-Maurice Hermès Museum, the Louis Vuitton Basis, and others. These artisans overseas have a strong livelihood, social safety and medical insurance coverage. In distinction, in India, such crafts are maintained in Dharavi slums.
Your considerations earlier than enterprise this journey….
After I launched Chamar Studio in 2018, I knew that I used to be taking an enormous threat. Jyotirao Phule, B. R. Ambedkar and quite a few artists lived complete lives in search of a brand new daybreak sooner or later, and I see them as my inspirations. We will solely hope for a greater future and work in the direction of it, and that is what has given me the braveness to go forward with my ardour mission.
Why do you assume there may be nonetheless a marketplace for manufacturers that aren’t sustainable?
There’s an alignment in efforts wanted to cut back world warming, and this wants to come back from the manufacturers in addition to the buyer. However I really feel that mass-produced manufacturers that make trend items in sweatshops in China, Bangladesh and India – people who enjoy low prices and enormous portions, and dump their merchandise throughout world markets, exploiting assets, creating non-biodegradable waste and underpaying staff – are usually not going to have the ability to maintain themselves in the long term. After the pandemic, sustainability, together with recyclable supplies and environmentally pleasant merchandise, goes to pave the way in which to equal pay and higher working environments for the tens of millions of staff who make our manufacturers, merchandise and artworks.
Is gender fluidity a part of the Chamar philosophy?
For us, a phrase is a phrase, an object is an object, a garment is a garment; it’s the person that provides a flavour or a that means to issues. We make merchandise which can be on the border between female and masculine energies, and supply an in-between vibe. That’s why we love utilitarian design and objects; an object must be open in its use for everybody. Once more, in the identical method that individuals connect a that means to phrases like Chamar, human beings assign a gender to things and categorise folks into castes. That is one thing we query. So, we do adhere to gender fluidity. On the finish of the journey, past caste, gender and battle, we’re all people, supposedly brothers – that has been Chamar’s message in India because the starting.
Inform us about your sustainable leather-based various. How did you come throughout the know-how for recycling used tyres and rubber into a cloth that appears like leather-based?
Dharavi is a spot the place loads of waste supplies are recycled. Tyre waste is an enormous subject as a result of if it’s not disposed of accurately, it accumulates in locations comparable to slums. Tyre mountains appeal to disease-spreading rodents and, in the long term, emit poisonous gases and fumes. Most tyres are recycled into granulates used for artificial playgrounds. Due to publicity to daylight and warmth, and percolation of rainwater, the bottom turns into poisonous, and that is the place our toddlers are despatched out to play. Earlier than Chamar, I used to be taking a look at discovered objects in slums and communities for an set up that I used to be making for a gallery. That’s the place the thought for Chamar got here from. After all, the fabric itself wanted enchancment and refinement for it to be extra sturdy.
What are the steps taken by Chamar Studio to make sustainability an ingrained worth as an alternative of simply an added worth?
Chamar procures salvaged supplies and reuses them, and leatherwork itself is a sustainable follow because it reuses the pores and skin of useless animals which can be used for meals (we’re in opposition to animal exploitation and abuse). Our origins are rooted in sustainable and reuse practices.
A decolonised perspective on sustainability has been ever-present. I come from the working class, and we’ve been recycling in India for generations. The West is simply just lately hopping on to the pattern. Once you see the designs for the Chamar Studio baggage, you see inspiration from the Indian vegetable baggage and the stitches come from the bazaars which can be made by individuals who produce the aesthetics of their design. The style business in India must get up to the muses that stand earlier than them moderately than these throughout the Mediterranean.
Are you able to inform us a bit of about your restoration of Chamar Haveli, a century-old artwork haveli in Jaipur?
We needed to create an area for dialogue between artisans, artists and designers – specifically, a residency programme – in a traditionally wealthy a part of India, underneath the aegis of Chamar Basis. We needed the muse to personal one in all these unbelievable components of historical past, artwork and crafts of India. A number of havelis and heritage buildings within the nation aren’t protected; most of them, if not tended to quickly, will fall into destroy. We’re doing our small bit by saving one. For us, it makes extra sense to reuse an previous “discarded” home moderately than to assemble a brand new constructing that may haven’t any historical past, no reminiscence, no artwork and no soul….