Renewing Vows with India’s Artisans

Renewing Vows with India’s Artisans

Artisanal design brand 11:11/eleven eleven on handholding craftspeople during the pandemic 

Designers Shani Himanshu and Mia Morikawa of 11:11/eleven eleven, a fashion brand that expresses craft and community consciousness, local handmade processes and rootedness through its creations and imagery recently announced an artisan relief fund. The COVID-19 situation has left many fashion enterprises in complex socio-economic traps after all.

The brand’s Instagram page showed various posts around “communities” they work with. They used this word in a pragmatic and respectful way, astutely placing person over product.

A number of small and medium scale fashion labels in India have recently announced artisan support funds. Some offer discounts if you pre-purchase their products that will be delivered after the lockdown ends. In intention, this one is no different perhaps.

Yet, the term “communities” that matters so much to the fashion industry, its visible and invisible workforce but surfaces so sparsely in communication with consumers, urged me to reach out to Himanshu.


Photo: Lucas Spiegel

An artisan hand spinning on petti charkha in Kachchh, Khamir.

If the first question I had in mind was “how do you intend to use the artisan support fund?”, it turned out to be, not surprisingly perhaps, also Himanshu’s first concern. “This is a question not just for smaller funds like ours but larger ones too like those mobilised by the government,” he says.

Himanshu says he has been urging the craftspeople they work with, especially master craftsmen, to use this time (without the pressure of orders and deliveries), to refine processes and create quality work. “Do less in the best possible way—is what I am telling them,” he says.

“Best possible” is an aspirational Work from Home (WFH) goal even for artisans but its implementation requires tools, materials and enablement.

To find ways to keep this dialogue on creative enhancement and productivity going, 11.11/eleven eleven is trying to find ways to send monetary help as well as raw material to artisan groups. They are directly or indirectly connected to dyers, weaver, hand printers in different parts of India, from Kutch in Gujarat to Srikalahasti in Andhra Pradesh.

“An artisan needs what all human beings need—security, respect, and understanding to keep learning. We are all part of a community life and are striving to create and support conditions conducive for life to creatively thrive,” says Morikawa.


Photo: Agyesh Madan

An Indigo dyeing artisan at The Colours of Nature, Auroville.

As affirmation, Himanshu says that they have promised to keep buying what the artisans make instead of discontinuing orders. “Even the handspun yarn created on peti charkhas at Khamir in Kutch needs to continue,” says Himanshu.

Before the pandemic hit business, 11.11/ eleven was also in the process of building an institution, a producer group that managed everything from farming to yarn spinning, dyeing and stitching—that would be owned and run by artisans. “We were to present it to one of the government schemes we were applying for,” says Himanshu. However, by the end of February, when Autumn/Winter 2020 buying closed, it had become evident that orders from Western countries had already dried up in the wake of COVID-19.

Restructuring and restrategising thus for the next six months is in order, he says. While Morikawa emphasises that it is time to renew the vows in collaborating with the environment. “Handmade technology like hand-spinning or handloom weaving is by default carbon neutral, but the transport of goods and energy usage at workshops need to be slightly refocused and offset. We plan to calculate our carbon emissions and understand what it will take to become carbon net neutral,” she says.

As a team, they believe that their brand narrative—of mindfulness, consciousness, responsible production and consumption–which may have been getting lost in the din earlier, will now become clearer and better heard.

“We want to assure our artisans that we will support them through this recession. We are a resilient community and will come out on the other side of this crisis together clearer and stronger in our mission and purpose,” say the two.

It is an inspiring note because verbalising the promise of hope is as important as swearing by it. Especially to “communities”, which contribute to our identity and existence. Renew our vows—as Morikawa says—with those who matter.

Banner: Iliyaz master, an employee of 11.11/eleven eleven, draping a garment at the brand’s New Delhi workshop..Photographed by Zacharie Rabehi.