I am here with an insight from the art capital of India GUJARAT. here with a very special personal interview with AMI SHROFF the director of SHRUJAN. An initiative embracing the rare crafts & their craftsmen. Nurturing them with love & the undying spirit to keep the crafts alive in India. Giving them an international platform & recognition for their hard work. To spread awareness about the legacy India has been blessed with since ages now.
Lets start the brand story of SHRUJAN with Ami Shroff –
I am extremely delighted to have an interaction with you personally. Its a dream come true to be able to get an insight into Shrujan. It is a journey to the art & craft heaven of India for any designer like me.
Q – Hi Ami, we would love to know how & when did the journey of an extravagant platform like SHRUJAN started? Why was Kutch been chosen to set up the same?
A – Shrujan was founded in the year 1969, and I was born 5 years later, so Shrujan has actually been around all my life. I live in Mumbai but Kutch is my second home where I spend most of my time.
While on one hand I had to work hard to understand Shrujan and what it stands for, on the other it has always been a part of our dinner table conversations. When I joined Shrujan full time, my mother was by my side, and that is the case even today. She is our guide and mentor in every step we take and Shrujan owes all its success to her grit, determination and above all grand vision for the organization. It is her work, her ethos and her vision that is engrained in each and every person at Shrujan. She worked as a family member with each artisan that she interacted with, from day one, and that is the example we follow today.
Even when I had my own point of views and ideas on how to grow the organization, my mother has been an outstanding leader by placing her faith in me, and allowing me the freedom to explore the feasibility of those very ideas. This is the reason why I was able to give my heart & soul to it.
The birth of Shrujan
In 1969, when the villages of Kutch were declared drought hit, Chandaben Shroff, my mother journeyed to Kutch, Gujarat with the Ramkrishna Mission to aid drought relief efforts. Visiting the Dhaneti village, she realized that the Ahir community there was reluctant to accept handouts, insisting on being given work instead, and several communities mirrored this sentiment across Kutch’s villages. Another thing that all these communities had in common, from the Jaths to the Rabaris, to the Meghwaads was the intricate and diverse embroidery done by their women. Chandaben noticed this unique craft and decided to experiment with it. She bought 30 sarees and asked 30 different women to create their embroidery designs on them. She then brought these embroidered sarees back to Mumbai and put up a small exhibition where the sarees were an instant hit and with demands for more and Shrujan Trust was born.
Q – That is such an inspirational & eventful beginning. What were the building blocks of Shrujan initially when it was founded by Chandaben?
A – The name Shrujan means creativity in Sanskrit and over the years a deep focus on the creative aspect of the craft is what has led to the organization’s growth and success. At the outset, Chandaben outlined some core principles that would ensure that craft and creativity remain at the center of everything Shrujan does:
- Work systems must reach out to kaarigars of all skill levels and especially to those living in remote and inaccessible villages.
- Quality is key: a craft must constantly strive to higher and higher levels of creative and technical excellence.
- Design and product innovation must be a core activity undertaken by designers who respect the craft and explore its potential with passion.
- Understanding the market, maintaining customer relations and valuing feedback — helps the craft to remain relevant and marketable.
- All kaarigars, irrespective of their education and skill, must be given opportunities to discover their potential, learn and grow and find their place in the world.
- Lifelong relationships must be built with all individuals and groups that make up the craft enterprise.
Q – Has “Shrujan” seem to have made a difference in the Indian & international platform? What motto do we see with Shrujan today?
A – Shrujan’s work in safeguarding, reviving and revitalizing an invaluable heritage has been internationally recognized too. Participative, grass-roots projects, led by Shrujan, that are large in scale and scope, such as the Design Centre on Wheels and the Pride and Enterprise research project have helped strengthen the craft and secure its future in the Kutch regions today. Young craftswomen have been nurtured in ingenious ways; and as a result they continue to be associated with Shrujan and also become the future custodians of the craft of hand embroidery.
Q – We all know that starting up a venture like this wouldn’t have been an easy task, especially back in 1969. I would be interesting to know about the infrastructural module Chandaben started with?
A – She took a personal initiative with only INR 5000, 47 years ago, which has now become a large not-for-profit organization that has touched and transformed over 20,000 women’s lives and countless families over the last four decades.
Q – How did you joined & continued your journey in Shrujan. Please also tell us about the LLDC concept.
A – I have worked alongside my mother for over two decades now. Shrujan was already in operation for 5 years when I was born. I formally joined the organization as a project coordinator in my twenties. This is when I led the “Design Center on Wheels” project for the organization, the first of its kind and scale in India. In fact it was my deep involvement and commitment for the operations at Shrujan Trust that led to the genesis of the first research and documentation project in the Kutch region called “Pride and Enterprise” which documented the embroidery craft stories of the Kutch region. This initiative went on to win the Rolex Awards in 2006 for the organization and my mother.
Today, our team has taken forward my mother’s vision and championed yet another successful project under the Shrujan Trust ambit, the Living and Learning Design Center (LLDC).
Like me, other members of my family too have contributed to the growth of Shrujan in every way possible. Be it by volunteering at the various exhibitions or then helping with the day to day operations at Shrujan. Similarly, friends of the family have always willingly come forward to help with the organisation in whichever way they could. If it wasn’t for their support growing Shrujan to this level would not have been possible.
Today Mrs. Chandaben and Mr. Kantisen Shroff, my parents, spend most of their time in Kutch to look after Shrujan and work with the villagers who have become an integral part of our family.
Based on my parents philosophy, of giving to others rather than taking from them, the entire family has come together to nurture Shrujan’s growth and also fulfill the grand vision that has manifested in the form of the
Living and Learning Design Center which stands in Bhuj today as the first of its kind multi-dimensional craft resource center.
Q – What makes Shrujan stand out from all the other non profit organizations working along side in India & abroad?
A – The uniqueness is in the fact that Shrujan never intended to make profit from the work done by the women artisans, in fact the organization’s believes in paying the karigaars as soon as they get their work even before selling it. It’s because of this policy of putting the artisan first that Shrujan had no infrastructure for a very long time.
The women associated with Shrujan continue to work from home at their own convenience, deliver the work and get paid as soon as they handover the work to Shrujan. This is unlike other organizations that typically pay craftspeople only once their product is sold. The only criteria that Shrujan lays great emphasis on is high quality of embroidery and that is a non-negotiable condition for any kaarigar that works with the organization. In turn Shrujan ensures that they don’t leave even a single kaarigar associated with them without money or work even for a day!
Q – What all variety of garments or textiles can we expect to see in the Shrujan Gallery?
A – Currently Shrujan works with 4,000 women across 120 villages belonging to 12 indigenous communities, practicing their individual styles of embroideries.
These women do embroidery work on various products like Sarees, Cholis, Blouse pieces, Dupattas, Kurtas, Tops, tunics, Stoles, Shawls, Mufflers, Yokes, Bags, cushion-covers & wall hangings. Shrujan has a wide range starting from mobile cover of Rs 800 to sarees upto 3 lakhs. It has four outlets at present, two in Mumbai, one in Ahmedabad and one in Kutch.
Q – Who are the target audiences for Shrujan’s craft oriented products manufactured in house?
The target audiences for Shrujan are craft enthusiasts who understand and can pay for the authentic fine embroidery. Even students from a design background are often customers as for them as they purchase Shrujan products for learning and practicing the unique Kutch embroidery. Shrujan also caters to many independent fashion designers who get the embroidery done from them on the outfits designed by them.
Shrujan’s high attention to detail and quality has helped them create a loyal following of craft enthusiasts, designers and customers who know they will only get the best product. And it’s because of this focus on quality that Shrujan has been able to venture into the customized exports market, supplying the products made by their kaarigars to markets such as London, Australia and even some Austrian and Italian companies. Shrujan has also worked with designers on specific design projects as a part of the designer’s larger collection.
Q – Is Shrujan retailing anywhere? Website? Studio /Retail Store? Can we directly buy authentic crafted products?
A – We have a wide range starting from mobile cover of Rs 800 to sarees upto 3 lakhs. We have four outlets at present, two in Mumbai, one in Ahmedabad and one in Kutch. You can also refer to our website to know more about us.
Q – Would you want to supply to MBO’s/ Companies?
A – We are open to job orders for limited edition work from companies and designers depending on the synergies of the team and the work required.
Q – Society band who would like to purchase ( students, housewives, designers etc)
A – The TG for Shrujan is mostly the people who understand and love authentic craft and embroidery work and are willing to value it and pay for it. Even students from designer background are our customers as they purchase our products for learning and practice.
Q – Any specific requirement or quality equipment taken care of ; while manufacturing of the products e.g. if these are eco friendly?
A – Yes, we pay lot of attention on the quality of clothes to the threads used. Shrujan’s thread is different, our quality of materials used is superior and that’s how we differentiate our work from others. Even something as simple as cottons will be of the highest quality possible for us. We use the best raw material and handloom themselves, which eventually increases it value.
Q – What is the number of artisans working in the Organization?
A – At Shrujan, we are working with 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation of families. We have a total of 75 staff members and 4,000 women with us.
Q – List of events done in this year & planned for 2016 ?
A – Early this year, in January 2016 Shrujan has initiate an ambitious project entitled ‘The Living and Learning Design Center’ in Kutch. It is India’s biggest museum and is also an active hub for crafts, which are present within the Kutch region.
Post that in February 2016 we have organized a Shrujan Exhibition in Bangalore for the first time, which was a success, and more recently in Mumbai.
Q – Scope for students joining hands with Shrujan.
A – Yes we do welcome students to volunteer with our organization and work in Bhuj, however since we are an NGO, the students have to manage their volunteering time independent of any direct support from the orgsanisation vis-à-vis their stay or other expenses.
Q – Scope for other organizations/people joining hands with Shrujan.
A – We are always open to aligning ourselves with organizations that understand our goals and vision. Ultimately it has to be a good match in terms of what we want individually and together.
Q – Is Shrujan taking up bulk orders for designers/companies directly. What are the details – minimums etc if any.
A – Shrujan’s high attention to detail and quality has helped us create a loyal following of craft enthusiasts, designers and customers who know they will only get the best product. And it’s because of this focus on quality that Shrujan has been able to venture into the customized exports market, supplying the products made by our kaarigars to markets such as London, Australia and even some French companies. Shrujan has also worked with designers on specific design projects as a part of their larger collection.
There are no minimum orders for us, it depends on what the designer or the company has in mind and if it fits in with what we can offer.
Q – Recent plans in next 5 years of growth & expansion for Shrujan?
A – While the LLDC continues to grow, our ultimate goal is to open a Crafts School. While practicing kaarigars will continue to be addressed, two new groups — aspiring kaarigars and rural youth – will also be trained for an economically viable and creatively satisfying career in the crafts.
The Crafts School will conduct an Integrated Craft Course. This full-time course will run over a consecutive period of six months. The Crafts School will have fully equipped working studios for all the 22 crafts of Kutch. This will make LLDC the single largest living and working craft environment in Kutch and perhaps in India as well.
Thanking Ami for all the precious words and sparing time out for this long yet informative interview with us. We have more into LLDC, The Crafts Museum & their impact in the next story.
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PS – This interview & content on the website is copyright to the publisher/owner of the website. This interview cannot be copied &/or used for any online or hard copy publishing or research with reference citation with permission. Leave us a comment below for the same & we shall get back to you asap. **The facts & figures have been provided by the Shrujan Trust members & are accurate. **