A Muzaffarnagar-based NGO will bring the almost 5000-year-old tradition of charpoy (khatiya) weaving to Mumbai.
After breaking free of the shackles of her investment-banking job, Muzaffarnagar’s Gauri Agarwal has brought together an almost 5000-year-old tradition of charpoy (khatiya) weaving to the limelight, creating functional products for modern Indian homes.
While her NGO Skilled Samaritan Foundation initially focused on lighting villages using solar power and has helped nearly three villages and 10 schools in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. It was during one of her visits to these villages that Agarwal took note of the charpoy made from candy and chocolate wrappers, giving birth to the idea to making contemporary daily-use products like wallet and bags. These and other such products in solid colours and patterns will be up for grab at furniture store Baro next weekend.
The NGO’s idea is to combine the revival of weaving and furniture styles that originated in pre-partition India to create handcrafted functional yet beautiful pieces that have urban-contemporary appeal. “We have been working in these villages since 2012. Our focus has been to marry their existing skillsets of charpoy weaving, by using ropes made from scrap plastic and textile, to create handcrafted sustainable designer furniture and accessories that can last for decades. Also employing hundreds of women at the same time,” explains the 33-year-old.
Working earnestly with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, the products are made of reused waste plastics and fabrics, that Agarwal discovered through an existing underground economy of rag pickers, who were procuring trimmings of food packaging and industrial waste and selling it to rope-making units.
“They then convert these long trimmings into ropes and sell at scrap rates to local villages in UP and Harayana. So we partnered with local rope-making units, set up in Northern Uttar Pradesh villages. And considering the physical properties of multi-layer plastic packing materials (of chips, chocolates and polythene wrappers), the ropes are lightweight, have good strength, grease, are water-resistant and aesthetic in design; making our rope material light, bright and extremely tensile,” elucidates Agarwal.
As for the design aspect, the organisation works closely with design interns who form a core part of the team. The interns finalise the colours and product framework based on a collective inspiration and preset mood boards. While an average product takes around five hours to weave, the accessory bags take up to eight hours because the waste plastic material used is comparatively rigid and takes significantly longer to knot.
“For instance, they create mock-ups of products on design software’s and then we execute them with the help of our artisans. But as we move into 2020, we’re looking to set up a skills lab as a common facility centre in the villages to conduct meetings and conduct training and workshops for our artisans and their community,” shares the entrepreneur.
Having overcome a vast deal of hurdles that required thoughtful communication and educating local communities, Agarwal states that Skilled Samaritan Foundation is not just supported by the women of Muzaffarnagar, but exists because of them.
“We started with one woman due to the social-cultural norms and even she worked behind closed doors at her home for four months till another joined. Initially, even the men of the family and community weren’t in favour. However, at present, they have joined the women since they earn and are therefore respected. Now husbands help the wives and brothers help their sisters,” she concludes with a smile.