Monday, January 23, 2017

Ishvar Allah Tero Naam, Sabko Sanmat De Bhagvan

… so go the lines of a famous hymn chanted by Gandhi every day. Loosely translated, the words mean “People call you by many names. Some call you Ishvar and some call you Allah, but you are the one and only infinite Divinity within all of us. Bless everyone with this wisdom so we may all strive towards the path of righteousness and virtue”.

These words ring true in this day and age of conflict and strife, and continued division between human beings on the basis of race and religion and skin colour. Not just songs and words, we need action too, to unify us all and work towards a beautiful world, a fair world. Fair Trade provides a platform where we can convert words into deeds.

Craft Resource Center (CRC) is a democratic and secular Fair Trade organisation adhering to Fair Trade Principles such as Commitment to Non Discrimination, Gender Equity and Women’s Economic Empowerment, and Freedom of Association. CRC works with artisans and employs staff from multi religious backgrounds, be it Hinduism, Islam, Christianity or Buddhism.

In 2016, CRC conceptualised a religiously pluralistic product, a Rosary bracelet. It is a bracelet that is an exclusively designed “one-decade rosary” (ten-beaded) worn around the wrist as a piece of Catholic jewellery. Continuing with CRC’s philosophy of multi-artisan involvement in the making of a product to generate more work, CRC went one step further to develop a product that will involve more than one religious community thus sending messages of tolerance and peace. 

Batul Artisans Cooperative - Papier Mache bracelets
Batul Artisans of Srinagar, Kashmir have partnered with CRC since their inception. The group members are followers of Islam.  Given their geographical area, they are fighting incredible odds - be it militant insurgency or ravages of calamity- natural or anthropogenic. This group comprising of 30 crafts persons, mostly women, is an epitome of courage and craftsmanship.
The process for making papier mache is relatively simple but takes quite a bit of time and labour. There are two main steps in the process of creating papier mache items. The first is the sakhtsazi, or the actual production of the item. The second is the naqashi, when the item is painted with any number of motifs. Each part is attached using threads and crystal beads. All the bracelets are beautiful with a smooth, shiny feel.  

Bengal Crafts and Lakshminarayan Wood, Horn and Bone Carving - Felt and wooden beads.
Bengal Crafts started working with CRC since 2001, supplying stuffed toys, hanging decorative and Christmas stars for Fair Trade markets in the West. The group started engaging women of Bandipur village in Hooghly district of West Bengal, India. The group members are Hindus in majority. The women of the area have no formal education and are not ideally suited to work in construction sites or brick kilns. They took up a part time job making stuffed toys besides continuing with their daily chores. On mastering the art, they graduated to learning how to bind notebooks using upcycled kantha (a traditional Bengal embroidery form) cloth. To further enhance their skillsets, they have been trained in felt-making under the aegis of CRC. In the Rosary bracelet, the women have used felt beads. These beads are made by moistening and rolling raw wool in the shape of a ball. The women are very adept tailors as well! Felt beads are tied with a piece of string and crystal beads at regular intervals add that extra zing!

Rabindranath Adak of Lakshminarayan Wood, Horn and Bone Curving lives with his family in Maguria, a village in East Midnapore in West Bengal. The Adak family is a traditional wood, horn, bone and coconut shell carver making artifacts in wood, bone and horn collected from various abattoirs or from the already dead animals. The Adak family and their 22 artisans feel elated about their pieces of art travelling abroad. They are crafters of wooden bracelets. They have used a variety of woods like tal, neem and sheesham wood in Rosary beads making. 

Bracelets can be ordered in adult and children sizes. Styles of Rosary bracelets are endless! There are papier mache, wooden, felt, upcycled embroidered kantha bracelets just to name a few of the varieties available.

With the ushering in of a brand New Year, renew your ties with God or Ishvar or Allah or Jesus or Buddha by wearing our Rosary bracelets. Take a concrete step to promoting goodwill and celebrate the Universality of the human spirit. And above all, be Fair and buy a Fair Trade product.    

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas with Furhat: A Fair Trade Story

Today is Christmas. As we gather with friends and family and are enveloped with joy and laughter, let us not forget the traditional artisans worldwide who add the sparkle to your holidays.

This beautiful Christmas ornament comes from Batul Artisan Welfare Society, an artisan group making papier mache products in Srinagar, Kashmir, India. Papier mache is an old form of craft using paper, originally from Persia. Old paper is purchased from the local market. Strips are cut and soaked in the water for 2 to 3 days. Then it is pounded with a mortar and pestle. Rice powder is boiled with water to make it into thick glue and then mixed in the pounded paper pulp. Round molds made of wood or terracotta are used for making the balls. 

The balls are ready
The molds are first covered with ordinary paper. Layers of prepared paper pulp are patted on the ball and then gently rubbed with a wooden file. This is then dried for a couple of days, and when the paper pulp on the balls is completely dried, the ball is cut into halves and the mold is extracted. A strong string is attached to one half of the ball with a thick knot. The two halves of the ball are rejoined with the help of adhesive and the surface is smoothed using sand paper. The ball is now painted with a solution of chalk powder and white acrylic color. Now the ball is ready to be transformed into a beautiful Christmas ornament.

Furhat and her parents
This is Furhat with her parents, who are artisans with Batul Society. She is a chirpy young girl of 14 years and studies in the 6th grade of a local school  Furhat is no way different from other girls in their early teens who love to play, sing, dance or go to school with a dream of a bright future. Furhat lives in Srinagar in the Kashmir valley. It is the capital city of the state of Jammu and Kashmir situated in the northern most part of India. The natural beauty of the valley with its rivers, lakes, verdant fields with a backdrop of snow capped mountains has given it the title “Heaven on Earth” and much sought after tourist attraction spot in the world .

Studying hard
Furhat goes to a local school named Government Girls’ Zaildar Mohalla Zone Rainwari where she learns Urdu (her mother tongue), English, history, geography, science and mathematics. Friends from school and neighborhood are the sources of joy in Furhat’s life with whom she plays everyday in the afternoon. They play cricket, hide and seek, racing and some indoor games, much like all school going children around the world. In addition, she has to help her mother in the kitchen and do some light household jobs. She also keenly observes her parents when they make papier mache products. It is her favorite pastime to watch how old pieces of paper are transformed into colorful toys, stars, boxes, flower vases, trays etc.

Household at work
Furhat’s family consists of her parents, grandmother and three siblings. Among her siblings, two are sisters and one brother. Furhat’s parents and elder sister work from home but collect the work from the Batul workshop which is 2 kilometers away. The three adult members start working from home at 9.30 am and finish at 5.30 pm. However within these working hours, Furhat’s mother may attend to some household chores though major work like cooking, cleaning and washing are completed before she sits for work. 

From their home to yours
There are few income generation opportunities in the Kashmir valley for Furhat’s and similar families. Industries are hardly present in the state. Fruit cultivation and agriculture can hardly support the people. Tourism is a profitable industry but has declined from its heydays due to the turbulent situation in the region. Handicrafts like embroidered woolen shawls, carpet making, wood carving, papier mache products are the only options for job seekers. Life is hard for Furhat and her family, and when the demand for their craft falls, the situation worsens.

Naseer Shah, Group Leader at Batul Society
 As a result, a majority of artisans from Srinagar have migrated to other states in search of work. Batul Society and its artisans are unique in that they continue to live and work in their original place of residence. The devastating floods of 2014 took their toll, destroying homes and workshops. Yet they continue to fight against their dire circumstances. Fair Trade helps them in their fight. Fair Trading organizations such as GEPA in Germany have bought large quantities of their beautiful products. Craft Resource Center continues to assist Batul Society to innovate in terms of design and products. But that can only go so far. At the end, it is the conscious consumer who seeks and actively purchases Fair Trade products who will bring a smile on Christmas to all the Furhats and their families around the world. Let's make life a beautiful place for everyone. Buy Fair, Be Fair.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Intern-al Views

Every year interns from all over the world visit us. Interns who believe in Fair Trade and hand-made products. Our interns don't make the morning coffee or file papers. They do actual work with us and the artisans! This year, Blake visited us all the way from Australia. It was a delight having him with us and we asked him to share his thoughts about his experience.

Blake Griffiths
University of New South Wales Art and Design (Former COFA-College of Fine Arts).
Sydney, Australia.

1.How did you find us? I was studying at National Institute of Designing. I was looking forward to doing an internship. It is mandatory for us to do an internship in our degree. While I was overseas in India, my dear Professor Liz recommended here. She actually recommended few places but we have had students in the past do their internship here so I chose CRC. Also, I wanted to work with crafts in India staying in India and not abroad.

2.What were your expectations before interning with us? I really did not research much about the company. I knew you work with artisans in India but I did not really know much. So I did not have so many expectations. I though I would be doing all boring stuff- like administration of design stuff which is probably what we expect out of an internship in our country. Like, if you are an intern, you get the boring job. If you are an intern, you do not actually do the designing because you are one of those at the start of the chain kind of guy. So I did not expect that I would actually come here and design!

3.What did you design? If you could tell us a bit more about your work. I worked mainly with Fulia- the weaving group. I designed 5-6 scarves and stoles for them to produce. They are all in jamdani. I wanted to make kind of simplistic, stylised monotone designs with the idea that once I leave or once the trend changes or once the fashion changes, they can apply the same principle and do different things. I have given them very simple motifs which they themselves can do. I also gave them an understanding about what they can do with a change of scale, change of placement or color or material, they can have some kind of ownership over the creative process also. More than a specific design I have given them a handful designs so that they can alternate themselves in the future.

4.What do you feel about the producer groups that you worked with? Very impressive. Super hardworking. Very good work environment. All the weavers are super friendly. I think you can tell, just by being there, the energy in the air and the vibe is very good.
5.What is your overall impression of your internship? Very good.I feel maybe I could have designed some more things. Leaving that out, I am quite happy with my work. I designed a towel with Fulia and it was probably the most difficult in terms of communication because the loom was really not prepared to do. We had to change the grid, we had to change the lifting order and change everything. It was difficult to communicate to the weavers but one of the guys figured out what I was trying to say. I learnt a lot around that communication. I was very happy with how it turned out. 

Spot the intern !

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Human Impact of a Ban: Why leather has a thing to worry!

The Maharashtra Government’s ban on beef whereby anyone selling beef or found in possession of it can be jailed for up to five years and fined Rs.10,000 will have unprecedented ripple effect! Following the footsteps of the Maharashtra Government, the Haryana Government is set to go one step ahead and equate cow slaughter with murder and bring cow killing under the aegis of Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code.

These bans will directly hit the Indian beef and leather industry, and in a big way !

The leather industry holds a prominent place in the Indian economy. India is the second largest producer of footwear and leather garments in the world. The leather industry is one of the top ten foreign exchange earning conglomerates. It employs a high number of people below 35 years of age and has engaged a significant number of women employees. The major production centres for leather and leather products in India are located in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab; Karnataka; Andhra Pradesh; Haryana, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, and Cochin.

As per the Council for Leather Exports in India, exports from leather industry has shown a healthy growth of 15.82% during April – November 2014. Ironically, the leather sector has been identified as “one of the Focus Sectors in the Make in India Programme of the Government of India, with the objective of enhancing production and employment”.

Some quick facts

  • 40 per cent of bull hides are produced in Maharashtra.
  • 33 operational abattoirs came to a halt in Maharashtra.
  • Doomed over 10 lakh people connected with the trade.
  • Cost of sourcing are up already by nearly 5 per cent.
  • Exports of leather and leather products during the first 8 months of FY15 touched $4.45 billion.
  • Supporting ailing cattle and feeding and maintaining it will cost a farmer Rs.5,000 each month.
  • Finished and product making abled hide from Chennai already costs manufacturers Rs.800.

Fair Trade organisations with a motto of generating means of livelihood for the poor have always had leather products to offer. Many of its leather goods producers employ people who belong to the socially disadvantaged and poorest sections of society, who have no education to take up other jobs or money to set up alternate businesses. CRC interviewed its leather manufacturers and suppliers to note their reactions.

Tarun Pal of Allied Craft Products- a leather goods manufacturing units speaks:
“The decision is very dictatorial. The Government is not thinking of my colleagues in Maharashtra. If the West Bengal Government treads on the path of the Maharashtra Government, we will be smashed! Either we will have to get leather from states where ban on cow slaughter is yet to clamp down or we will have to import raw materials first to export (sounds paradoxical already!) thus escalating costs  or we will have to go out of business. Small, mostly unregistered manufacturers will certainly perish. Cows will be smuggled to other states where slaughter is permitted. There will be rampant black marketing”.

Kallol Sarker of Shilpa Kutir says:
“As of now I am fine because I source cow hide from Kolkata (that travels to Chennai in semi-processed state and comes back to us after Chennai makes the leather fit for product making). However, if Kolkata decides to impose the ban, we will cease to operate”. Interestingly, Kolkata has one of the largest leather complexes in Bantala spread across a sprawling 1,200 acres. There are 308 tanneries operating at CLC or Calcutta Leather Complex.  It employs 13,000 workers and is always bustling with activities. Raw hide is sourced from all over India and partially processed before being carted off to Chennai and then back to Kolkata.

Patrick Lee, Owner of CLC based medium sized tannery - Sheong Shi Tannery, who processes only cow hide is reflective and takes a holistic view of the situation. He reacts: 
“As of now, we are not affected by the ban because I source 100% of my leather from Kolkata but I have a premonition that this ban will spill over to other BJP administered states and in worst of cases, we may come under its purview too! We will have to shut our shops and migrate to other countries. Moreover, we are Christians. We consume beef. Beef ban will affect our food intake. Why is the Government honouring sentiment of only one religion? As many as seven religions are practised in India. In school I was taught that India’s strength lies in its unity in diversity. So it is disturbing to see this kind of preferential treatment. We are feeling isolated and non-Indian”.

The facts, and the comments above, clearly show that for whatever reason beef has been banned, it is likely to have a direct, negative impact on the economic livelihood of hundreds of Indian workers Those in the small-scale informal sector will be affected severely given their lack of financial resources and options. Many will be jobless and go hungry!

We at CRC cannot help but wonder if those who suggest, enact, and enforce such bans have thought about the human impact. If they have, we sincerely hope the bans will be reversed soon.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Refashioning Cotton the Organic Way - A CRC Story

Cotton is perceived as ‘the fabric of our lives’. We come in contact with cotton-made material in our daily lives. CRC took yet another step in the right direction and turned attention to promoting, developing and marketing organic cotton made products – one of the first of its kind in the hand-woven product arena in Fair Trade! Growing conventional cotton means guzzling pesticides with enormous environmental degradation impact. In tune with environmental ethics, CRC turned a new leaf in the reformation book by opting for organic.

Organic cotton was solely the bastion of big textile houses producing in mass scale. Back in early 90's, a pioneer Swiss company and an Indian spinning mill encouraged organic cotton growing in Madhya Pradesh, India. It was a non-commercial, experimental motive to begin with, but has now grown into a large enterprise. The Indian subsidiary of the Swiss firm is now one of the most sought after organic cotton producing companies.

The organic cotton growing bio-dynamic calendar based on astronomical positions sets the ball rolling. Accordingly, farmers derive the appropriate timing for conjuring up an organic manure base. Once soil is organically treated, seed is sowed. Various stages of Cow Pat Pit (CPP) farming and soil treatment with bio fertilizers like cow dung, vermiwash (tonic collected after vermi-composting), egg shells, jeev amrit, matka khaad, buttermilk, and many other naturally produced agents, are used for agricultural growth augmentation. A casual stroll through organic cotton fields reveals several varieties of organic cotton like short staple, medium staple and long staple. Every field is bordered with a plantation of pigeon pea as a border crop. It takes a minimum of 3 years for a conventional cotton field to go organic.

CRC started buying organic cotton yarn from this certified organic cotton producer (Approved by the Organic Trade Association) and distributes the yarn to its weaving partners. At the same time, CRC developed a range of products woven by these partners, such as Ikkat table cloths, Ikkat yardage, and Ikkat baby carry-cloths, scarves, and fabrics for making shopping bags etc.

CRC has also embarked on the journey of natural dyes with local partners. Only plant extracts are used and petrochemical dyes are bid adieu when it comes to coloring organic cotton fabric. Thus, CRC organic cotton products are non-allergenic and do not contain septic chemicals or bad transpiration. In due course, CRC aims at adding more products to the organic cotton inventory and fulfilling the ambivalent aim of generating a source of income for producers and offering a healthier way of life to purchasers.

  • Why Organic? Less than 3% of the world’s arable land is planted with cotton. 
  • 24% of the world's insecticides and 10% of the world's pesticides are used for cotton cultivation. 
  • Pests build up resistance to chemicals, farmer borrows money to buy more chemicals than before, farmer gets less profit from crop, this repeats until the farmer is destitute. 
  • 1 acre of organic cotton instead of an acre of conventional cotton reduces CO^2 release by two tonnes a year.

Dolan Chatterjee 
Projects and Policy - CRC India

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Welcome to the world of CRC

At CRC we believe that life is a beautiful place. 
But not for everyone. 

There are hundreds of traditional artisans in India, and all over the world, 
who find it hard to get by on a daily basis. 
Sometimes, even two meals a day is a luxury. Industrialization, mass-market products, and the global consumer’s thirst for cheap machine-made products – all work hand-in-hand to deprive traditional artisans of even a chance to earn a fair livelihood. 
Under the umbrella of Fair Trade, we at CRC have been working for the last 24 years to make a difference for these artisans. 

And we firmly believe that we have made a difference and enabled them to make their own lives a beautiful place. 

We present to you our new website ( and this blog. Through these pages we will highlight our producer partners and their skills, their work, and the products that they bring to you. 

We will also attempt to highlight some of the socio-economic issues confronting them and how at CRC, we try to provide them with assistance and support. We hope these pages tell you the stories and travails and victories of these traditional artisans, and ours as well. 

It all started with a discussion over a cup of tea. And then, with the support of the Swiss Development Cooperation, CRC was born. Bernard Muller, Dorothea and Peter Ruesch, Rudi Dalvai, Elisabeth Ortner and Heinz Binzegger - all of them guided us through our infancy and we are grateful to them. 

After 24 years we can claim to be a stable and self-sustaining organization completely focused on our mission and vision. Much of the credit for this goes to our co-founder Manoranjan Walia who passed away in 2012. Walia, as he was affectionately known by everyone, may have left us, but his spirit is still with us at CRC every day. We will always be grateful to him for bringing us this far and inspiring us to go beyond. 

Drop us a line and let us know what you think of our website. We thank you for visiting our website and supporting Fair Trade. We all live in one world, let’s together make it a Fair World. 

Irani Sen 
Founder and Director, CRC