India is known for its diverse history. Each part of the country has its way of representing its culture creatively. Many families have dedicated their lives to honing an art form that has taken centuries to develop. Several generations have gradually added their spin to such creations to stay true to modern times.
With each passing year, the digital revolution is gaining momentum. Many different platforms have emerged that provide lucrative business opportunities to many small businesses that would otherwise not thrive in the current period.
The Internet has been a boon for many art and craft products. The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be catastrophic for local artisans. However, several entrepreneurs became a shining ray of hope as they showcased their products on a profitable platform. For the craftsmen, their livelihood was in excellent and safe hands.
Celebration Of Kutchi Culture
A striking example of this is 'Kutchi Bazaar'. As the name suggests, it sells products made by the local artisans in Gujarat's Kutch region. From dresses to jewellery and footwear, each is made of designs that joyfully celebrate the local culture. Some of the methods available on the platform are Ajrakh block printing, Bhujodi, Bandhani, Rogan art, among others.
Many of their popular products are made with 'Ajrakh' cloth. The block printing process is steeped in tradition as its history is traced back to Indus Valley Civilisation. It is considered 'sustainable' as it uses natural dyes like Rust Iron, Haldi, Henna, Indigo to colour the fabrics. It takes 16 days to make the product, which involves colouring and block printing altogether.
This art form finds its roots in Sindh (now in Pakistan). Several generations migrated to present-day Kutch before the partition. The Khatri community in the region are known as this craft's true custodians. Mr Sufiyan Khatri is one of them. His father is Dr Ismail Khatri, a renowned artisan in Kutch. The family is settled in Ajrakhpur, which Dr Khatri founded after the devastating Gujarat earthquake in 2001.
For Sufiyan Khatri, his childhood days were spent making Ajrakh fabric in the workshop. He learnt the craft from his father when he was 14 years old. "Our family has been doing this for 10-11 generations since the 16th century. In 1634, the ruler of Kutch invited my ancestors from Sindh (now in Pakistan) in the pre-Partition era. The king was extremely fond of arts and crafts from different parts of the world. Apart from my forefathers, he even invited other artisans who were experts in Bandhani, Ajrakh and other crafts from Iran, Afghanistan and others," he told The Logical Indian.
Inspired by his father and grandfather, Mohammed Siddiq Khatri, Sufiyan Khatri's thought process has only evolved over the years. Learning all the basic skills at such a young age has helped him tackle any problem that comes his way.
However, it has not been an easy road. Scores of artisans around the country were adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sufiyan Khatri was no exception as well. He narrates his story, "Normally, we start the Ajrakh work only after the monsoon season, and we buy the cloth between December and January. Similarly, we procured the necessary resources between December 2018 and January 21 worth ₹20-25 lakhs. Several companies had given their orders and we were working on them when lockdown happened in 2020. Suddenly, all of them were cancelled."
The craftsmen' livelihood depended on the work. Therefore, Khatri's team decided to work without creating scarves, dupattas, etc. "We got in touch with several e-commerce platforms who sold our products. However, this only lasted for a small amount of time and was not the permanent solution."
Rise of 'Kutchi Bazaar'
The idea behind 'Kutchi Bazaar' originated from Sufiyan Khatri's meeting with a man named Juned Khatri. He was born and brought up in Mumbai with his roots in the Kutch region. The renowned artisan was his family friend who attended his brother's wedding. "I met Sufiyan Khatri at my brother's wedding. We met and started talking instantly. He told me about the artisans' plight during COVID-19. The whole craft fraternity was adversely affected. If the craftsmen did not get enough opportunities, they would shift to other occupations that will, eventually, lead to the art form's demise. This issue inspired me to help the local artisans out," Juned Khatri told The Logical Indian.
While Sufiyan Khatri brought his artistic prowess, Juned Khatri tested his technical skills. He left his job and dedicated himself to making a platform to promote such art forms. He adds, "In January 2021, My brother and I brainstormed with Mr Sufiyan Khatri. I made a website where we initially showcased two crafts, Bandhani and Ajrakh. We already knew many famous artisans, and we asked them to present their creations on the platform and see how it is received."
As soon as March 2021 began, 'Kutchi Bazaar' received its first order. After the initial response, the Khatris approached small-scale artisans and gave them a lucrative platform for their products. Later, they dabbled into the handloom section. Their items started to gain prominence, from sarees to dupattas and beautiful dresses and leather footwear.
In no time, the e-commerce platform became extremely popular. Several local artisans from the Kutch region approached the founders, who gave them a place to showcase their crafts for the people to see and buy.
Working For Artisans' Welfare
Recent times has seen a rise in digital art-making. Several companies resort to applications that can replicate intricate designs in a jiffy. For them, it saves time and workforce. However, this is detrimental for the craftsmen who toil hard to design in a certain period. In light of this, 'Kutchi Bazaar' wants to uplift the artisans and give them recognition. "In this competitive market, we artisans are not getting full credit and benefits for all the hard work we do. With this platform, we want to give them the respect and recognition they fully deserve," Sufiyan Khatri quips in.
Looking into the future, Juned and Sufiyan Khatri want to keep working hard for the artisans' welfare. "Several big companies are exploiting the resources provided by the craftsmen, and they do not get their due. With 'Kutchi Bazaar', we want to preserve the artwork's authenticity and give the community due respect and credit," Juned Khatri further tells The Logical Indian.
Along with this, tapping into the international market is a goal they want to achieve. Therefore, 'Kutchi Bazaar' intends to present all kinds of arts and crafts from the region and put Kutch's name on the global map.