THE BRIDGE TO ARTISANS

Isabella Pennefather in conversation with Devendra Dhariwal from SETU: The Bridge To Artisans

We began Spell with a love of handcrafting. I used to make our jewellery by hand, each and every piece, so handcrafting has always been at the heart of our brand!  Back when we were teens, my sister and now business partner Elizabeth and I, used to hand make bags and jewellery out of leather and beads we found in our mums sewing room and vintage stores, and then later in my 20’s I began creating jewellery for a hobby, that eventually turned into a business. This love of handcraft was the essence of Spell and the core of our roots, so when it came to circling back to creating jewellery collections again, the art of handcraft and artisan techniques was close to our hearts when it came to choosing the partner that would bring our jewellery to life. 

Devandra, when we found SETU, we were so thrilled to find an artisan group who shares that love of handcrafting and passed it down to other generations. I’d love to ask you about the Bridge to Artisan makers. How do the artisans get trained?

Most artisans do not have any formal education and are usually illiterate. For crafts, they usually learn from their forefathers who have been following this craft traditionally. We also organise and sponsor skill development workshops as per need, where master craftsmen of the same craft are hired for training the young aspiring “artisans”. For silver jewellery, many illiterate youth from poorer states, such as West Bengal, migrate to other cities like Jaipur, in search of livelihood. Here, other master craftsmen of their community train them in various processes of jewellery making, thus gearing them up to earn a dignified livelihood.

Creating a program like this must have been a huge process and something that came from your hearts. Tell me about the creation of the Bridge to Artisans program?

We (myself & my wife Rashmi) have been successful engineers by profession and have worked in the past with a large manufacturing corporate in India as head of Manufacturing and Quality Assurance departments respectively. During our work with this organisation, we came in contact with an artisan community, who had expertise in handweaving of fine fabrics with intricate designs & motifs. The lack of access to market and the technology-driven competition were taking their toll on the artisans and the art was dying, along with their spirits. They had so much art in their hands but were forcing their next generation to work as cheap labourers rather than pursue their rich art and culture. That made us realise that there was a lot more in life and that we should try to make a difference! We realised that there had to be a bigger purpose of our being, and so we left our job one by one and spent some time with the community, helping them design modern products and identify ways to reach the market. This gave the artisans a lot of confidence and hope for their art and we observed a drastic transformation in the spirits of the community. At the same time, the entire experience helped us visualise a process which could be used to support various artisans achieve economic sustainability and growth.

We explored other rural parts of India and realized that despite having so much craft skills, a large number of artisans were forced to work in exploitative conditions due to lack of knowledge and market.

Subsequently, we developed a model of sustainable development through ethical trade practices and a powerful solution to the social & economic development of the marginalizsd & underprivileged communities, especially in the developing third world.  Thus ‘SETU’ was founded. In due to course of time, we also founded our non-profit arm with the aim of serving the underprivileged and work for social, economic & environmental sustainability projects.

We now feel that we are finally doing justice to the purpose of our existence on this earth. Life has become much more meaningful. We enjoy each and every moment of our work. With Fairtrade, everyone can make a difference in the world, however small it may be……

Tell us about the meaning behind the word ‘SETU’

‘SETU’ in Sanskrit means ‘The bridge’. As indicated from the name, `SETU-The Bridge to Artisans’ acts as a bridge between the underprivileged/marginalized artisans and the international/affluent markets, at the same time, working for social, economic and environmental well-being of the artisan communities.

We have found in over the years that the link between brands and artisans is a hard one to connect and nurture if you aren’t physically over there yourselves in the initial stages. Why is the link between artisans and brands so important?

Artisans benefit a lot when they get associated with brands. Brands have good knowledge about trends and market requirements and pass on the same to artisans. Brands also help in providing larger volumes which help in providing a sustainable livelihood to more and more artisans. For e.g. working with Spell has helped us to expand our product range, learn new techniques & market trends. We have been able to provide long term sustainable livelihood to so many artisans. It has not only supported our artisans financially, but has also helped in increasing their self-confidence tremendously. We feel much more confident and capable now after being associated with Spell.

The process of the partnerships must differ from group to group, how does this relationship begin?  

Artisan groups approach us in search of work. We evaluate them for their practices, update them with SETU policies and ethics, identify their skill potential, upgrade their skills, guide them with new techniques, do capacity building and so on…. In due course of time, mutual trust and harmony builds up. Artisans start sharing their problems. We also are able to identify their issues and then we address their needs and implement development programs where needed.

Why is Fairtrade so important? What do consumers need to know about this importance? 

Fairtrade is a powerful tool for socio-economic development. It is a market-based approach to alleviating poverty and promoting sustainability through ethical practices. It ensures dignified living because it is “Trade, not aid”. Fairtrade is more than just trading. It proves that greater justice in world trade is possible. It helps ensure all 3 pillars of sustainability: social, economic & environmental.

Discover our hand crafted Fair Trade Artisan pieces here.

Learn more about our makers here.