Marigold Living is an independent company sourcing handmade traditional textiles from India artisans working within a unique model based on fair pricing while valuing the legacy of artistic technique and tradition.
Many of these complex and extraordinary textile techniques and visual handwork traditions are in danger of becoming extinct for myriad reasons such as everyday financial pressures faced by the artisans, changing trends in style, and even the replacement of handmade textiles with new technological printing and embroidery techniques. Inevitably with such automated techniques, there is a loss of intricacy, variation and tradition that can only be passed down from person to person.
Marigold Living founder Shreya Shah explains:
“Traditional practitioners of craft face competition from quicker techniques that result in less inconsistencies and allow for large-scale production. Printing techniques like screen printing and even digital printing, can replicate the “look” of a hand block print, as can power loom weaving versus hand weaving.
With the proliferation of these modified techniques, there is a meaningful dilution in the aesthetic of the final product in my view, and a slow erosion of the richness one can get in a handmade object made using traditional techniques.”
“Many of these artisan shops are not incentivized to follow the laborious authentic techniques. Instead, driven by global demand for cheaper Indian “handmade” textiles, many artisans have already jumped ship to the larger scale segment of screen printing, and taking short cuts in block printing at lowered prices. I hope to create products for this market using the traditional crafts and traditional designs, updating them without losing the rich underlying cultural aesthetic. “
What inspired you to begin this company?
I have had a long-standing fascination for handicrafts in general from my early life – having grown up in Mumbai and surrounded by exposure to exhibitions, specialty stores, and home-based businesses that carried some of the finest handcrafted saris and home linens. The beauty of heritage textiles was part of our family life, and both my mother and older sister were a big influence on me. We would always seek out unique, regional, specialty saris for my mother’s daily wear, and for social occasions for my sister.
While my education and career have always been in business and finance, the early beginnings of Marigold Living actually happened while I was getting my MBA at NYU in 1995. It was striking to me that there was very limited, if any, availability of high quality textiles or handicrafts from India in the US, so I decided to make that my project for an Entrepreneurship class. Of course, it took several years before I could take on building the business due to my demanding career in finance, but I am excited to have officially launched the brand this past March of 2018.
Any important stories you would like to share about your artisans?
In my view, the bigger story of artisans in India is their inherent knowledge of techniques – weaving, hand printing, wood block carving, dyeing, embroideries, etc. It always fascinates me as I discover more communities about how esoteric the skills and even the aesthetics are by region and community. They each having their own heritage that is passed down through generations. In our modern-day consumerism, we are quite unaware of the wealth of knowledge that is at the risk of being lost. Similarly, these artisans are also sometimes unaware of their own level of expertise, because they have been making things for their own use for centuries. They are not fully able to capitalize on it, due to lack of exposure and education to make things that would be exciting and beautiful for a modern-day consumer.
Tell us more about the Women Artisans….
The women artisans often work on their craft alongside working in their homes and taking care of their families. For example, my applique line (fine hand stitching of cutouts) is done by women in a remote rural region at the border of India and Pakistan. This community migrated from Pakistan in the 70’s and they all settled in this one region which is still quite underdeveloped the women have been taught to do this applique work by their families over generations.
The work arrangement is flexible, and women work on it at their own pace and get paid per piece completed. The area would require government permission to even visit, but my supplier organizes this work, sending the textiles to them and assigning pieces to women looking for work. The process can take up to 3 months to get an order completed.
And Parsi Embroidery….
I have also visited a small town in Central India where I get my Parsi embroidery done. While my supplier is herself from the Parsi community and is fully knowledgeable about the heritage, today Parsi women do not make the embroidery because it went out of fashion. Luckily, the craft has survived and embroiderers from other regions with embroidery skills are able to recreate the intricate designs. While exploring the local market in this town, my supplier pointed me to shop after shop carrying “shadow work” embroidery designs on saris, which is a more casual local embroidery style. There is a pocket of this artisan community there that does that type of work and I am very keen on cultivating it to make table linens.
Can you tell us a bit about a few of the traditional printing techniques used?
Hand block printing, resist printing and bandhani tie-dye printing are a few of the various techniques I have used so far in my collections. Block printing is the process of hand-stamping elaborate designs engraved on wooden blocks onto cotton or silk fabrics. Resist printing is a technique where patterns are hand block printed on white fabric using a dye-resistant paste (typically made with mud or wax), and then placed in a dye bath. Once the resist is removed, the eye-catching patterns remain in white against a striking colored background.
Bandhani tie-dye printing is where several points in the fabric are tightly tied with thread to create numerous dots, before dipping the fabric into vats of colorful dye. The tied knots are then opened, forming a delightful pattern of white spots against the colored background.
Tell us more about the investment in traditional Indian artwork and the people you work with, and how you support them in the work and lives.
The handicraft sector forms the second largest source of employment in India after agriculture, with millions of artisans working in it – as the majority of the population in India (~70%) still lives in rural areas. It’s also important to note is that Indian crafts have been world-renowned for centuries, sought after by both aristocrats and common people. This was until the advent of Industrial Revolution, when mechanization changed everything.
The block printers, weavers, embroiderers that I meet in the course of my work are prolific in their work, they have the concentration and the skills required to produce high quality work, all done by hand. These skills are passed down from generation to generation, and the knowledge is deeply ingrained in each artisan community. However, with lack of direction on fashion and keeping it relevant for the modern-day consumer, handicrafts remains a largely disorganized sector that is still operated as a cottage industry. A majority of the artisans do not have the benefit of education either.