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Updated: Feb 11

The muted, yet magnificent #Chikankari of Lucknow has been a temptation not just for Royals but for every resident of the city. The embroidery, treasured by royals like Chandragupta & Harshvardhan and fancy of contemporary Indian and international designers alike, is an epitome of aesthetic evolution, semantics and innovation over the ages. On the hind side this craft also has a shadowed existence of its practitioners, a story that conceptualised 'Sangraha'.

Chikankari was practised by both genders as long as the documented history goes, but it was only after 1920's that these men took a backseat and started giving work to women at home or vicinity. It was a submission to reducing economics and patronage of crafts.

After almost hundred years of the transition of #embroidery to #women #artisans, when ground research on project S A N G R A H A in 2015 many of the artisans were,

still earning enough only for One Meal a Day.

Definitely the skills of majority of artisans had immensely deteriorated for lack of #dignified compensation and recognition.

Initiating a groundbreaking design education program for artisans marked the beginning of a transformative journey. Assessing its #impact on independence, economic growth, recognition, confidence, and dignity yielded inspiring results. However, industry hesitancy loomed, fuelled by concerns that manufacturers and retailers would incur additional costs by embracing these artisan workforces.

Unexpectedly, the artisans hesitated to re-enter the relentless cycle or return to the realm of obscurity—an unforeseen challenge that emerged during the realisation of the research project.

This led to the establishment of Sangraha Atelier, an organization destined to evolve into a future trademark, defining its unique identity.

As the project's initiator, I assumed the role of a charioteer, steering it as a #philanthropic endeavour for community and heritage. Over the years, the initiative transformed into a warrior group, where artisans showcased remarkable growth and commitment. Several gained the confidence to launch their own ventures, while others chose to collaborate within the group or with newly established setups, fostering a vibrant ecosystem of creativity and entrepreneurship. Ensuring the organization's sustainability was crucial for the ongoing benefits and those yet to discover their strengths.

A pivotal moment arrived as power dynamics shifted within the group, compromising Sangraha's economic balance.

The call to assume a leadership role beckoned, transitioning from a mentor to steering the group towards economic growth and excellence. Despite ongoing academic commitments, I voluntarily spearheaded Sangraha, maintaining unwavering dedication.

Dedicated to artisanal well-being and enhancing consumer experiences, I extended my support by sharing monetary resources with the organization. Emulating the perpetual learning ethos of Guru Nanak as a Sikh, it became my ethical commerce.

Despite the perception of enormous external growth and enviable profits, the reality for us was concealed. Balancing multitasking and #ethical #entrepreneurship, we grappled with prolonged cash cycles. Behind the scenes, we faced hatred for our impact, envied for apparent growth, and endured physical mistreatment. We chose to keep our struggles private, as few were interested or supportive. Standing for our rights, we politely sought our dues, yet found ourselves slowly exploited in the Indian retail industry, not for being misfits but for upholding ethics. A reputed brand mocked, stating, "Your problem is being ethical and sincere; others grow by being otherwise."

Blessed with the support of like-minded individuals on Sangraha's board and in advisory roles, we formed a safety net for the organization. Despite pandemic challenges, we pooled resources to sustain artisans in need. The initial identity of Sangraha, comprising design-trained artisans, expanded post-pandemic, drawing interest from major retail giants. Patience and persistence were tested as collaboration required significant time and investment. Taking a leap, I committed fully to steering the organization, relying on past savings. My former student, Danish, joined as a constant ally. Profitability, ethics, artisan welfare, dignity, and cost optimization wrestled for balance. Values remained paramount, transforming the journey into a marathon on fuming charcoal, where the flame of commitment burned brightly.

Even after our professional engagement for four year for months, if not year, Danish and I forwent compensation and reimbursements. While retail giants flourished, Sangraha expanded vertically, establishing a foundation to educate artisans and perpetuate our legacy. The focus extended beyond quick profits to long-term impact and growth.

In our pursuit to establish Sangraha as a #responsible #brand with market touchpoints, we ventured into e-commerce and events. Our customer community became a steadfast support, grounding us in the face of growing challenges from profit-focused retail brands and delayed cash cycles. Individual hurdles seemed insignificant when considering the broader impact on communities along both sides of the supply chain.

Building a brand around our core values necessitated a meticulous exploration of our founding principles, and we discovered avenues within the competitive retail landscape through incremental milestones.

Our products bear the artisan signature, a tangible testament to their inherent value.

Each item carries an excellence marking, a vocal manifestation of our unwavering commitment to excellence.

Notably, artisan compensation surpasses industry standards, affirming our warrior-like dedication.

The inclusion of a letter of acknowledgment from artisans with every product establishes a virtual connection with our customers.

Our value chain is distinctive, with artisans occupying prominent roles, promoting empowerment and inspiration within the community.

Every fraction of an hour worked by artisans is compensated, a reflection of our genuine appreciation for their contributions.

Embracing innovation, our products continually evolve to meet the evolving needs of our consumer community, ensuring relevance and meaningful engagement.

Sangraha, albeit on a small scale, stands as a #warriorforchange, steadfastly navigating the challenges of the commercial world. Our commitment to artisans reflects an unwavering faith and dedication, resonating with every #community member touched through our events or digital presence. Challenges like uncompensated professional contributions persist, but our commitment to innovation ensures that we consistently return to our community, fulfilling aspirations in the realm of #craft and #design.

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