Nupur Jain is Trying to Revive a 150-year-old Unique Art Through Sujani Looms
She took upon herself to leverage an art form which was fast losing its identity. This Bharuch-based loom endeavours to reviving a 150-year-old dying art – Sujani. Nupur Jain brought it back by establishing ‘Sujani Looms’ with the help of very few kadikars who preserved the knowledge of this weave.
Nupur, tell us what inspired you to become an Art Entrepreneur?
Gujarat is blessed with a rich and vibrant tradition of Handicrafts. I came across this beautiful quilt during my stay in Bharuch and was mesmerised by the beauty and intricacy of the work. I found that there are only 3-4 families left who have the knowledge of this form of weaving. This woven saga of colourful squares really inspired me to take this craft out of Bharuch and show it to like-minded people and that’s how Sujani Looms came into existence.
Starting ‘Sujani Looms’ – was it also inspired from a personal space?
My passion for social work inspired me to start working in the social development sector. I worked with the Sujani artisans to revive this dying art, created a brand name to spread awareness.
It gives a feeling of satisfaction and a sense of happiness when you help people earn a livelihood for themselves. Sujani Looms came into existence in November of 2014. Currently, I work out of the home in Bharuch and handle most of the running around myself along with using my domestic help to assist me every now and then.
How does it work (with the marketers and the artisans) and what future plans do you have to take it to the next level?
At Sujani Looms we give orders to the artisans as per our requirements. On delivery of the products, the money is instantly given to the weavers, thus giving them a continuous flow of work. Sujani Looms is a non-profit organisation and all the proceeds from the sales of the products at Sujani Looms are directed towards the social work projects. We have been invited by the Indo-Soviet society to present on this handicraft. We have also presented our collection in Mumbai, Delhi and Bhilai. With Facebook promotion and through word of mouth, we have also sent our collection to Singapore to be showcased in the Singapore Handicraft Exhibit.
Being emotional and attached to the project has brought me closer to artisans. People skills are also very important in a handicraft business, where you have to deal with artisans, traders and regular buyers.
Going forward, I would like to educate people about this craft. We would be promoting Sujani Looms by exhibiting across the country and start e-retailing on the leading e-commerce websites. Ideally, I would like to associate this craft with one of the leading designers who are able to see the potential in this craftsmanship and give a new life to the weaves.
What makes this dying art so special?
Sujani Looms presents its collection of heritage weaves in fresh new palettes. Vibrant and versatile, they meet all contemporary living needs. The distinctive feature of this craft is that the entire fabric is made on the loom. It does not require any additional stitching. This craft is stuffed with cotton fibre in small squares while it is being woven on the loom. Unlike other quilts, it is not layered with a cotton sheet and later stitched by hand or machine. In this two weavers sit at either end and operate the loom. A shuttle of two colours is put in the warp threads with the aim of turning the warp and the weft.
What compelled you to restore this cultural art?
The artisans and craftsmen of Sujani have acquired the knowledge of how to craft Sujani as a part of a legacy from their forefather. The knowledge is passed down the generations with faith that if the artisans will take care of the craft, the craft will take care of the artisans. Sujani are one of that craft that has survived through the transition from the first generation to the fifth one running now.
Women want equality in society. In professional careers, an organisation should definitely promote a woman oriented/friendly environment where women are respected and feel safe. Also at home women should be able to speak and give their opinions on personal and family matters.
These craftsmen belong to those countable families whose ancestry is related to the founder of this craft form. As it was family occupation the members of the family got due exposure in the craft from their childhood and later developed mastery in the weaving Sujani. Even today, these masterpieces are crafted with deeper passion and a sense of fulfilment of completing the creation.
How is India taking it so far?
In short a span of time, we had gotten wide publicity. Today’s citizens do want to hear about the history of India and they do want to revive the craft and art. The traditional handicraft industry has brought pride to the country for several centuries. Sujani was solely crafted to support the weavers economically. Its commercial value has always been more dominating than its social standing. Originated during 1860 and enjoyed royal patronage along with worldwide fame and appreciation. There are mainly three families involved in the crafts. Due to the new modern technology, the value of handicraft has deteriorated and people are now looking for cheaper and look-alike products. To survive, they now need to look at alternative careers. I have taken up this challenge to be able to promote this craft and give a new life to Sujani weaving.
The biggest strength that a woman has is her ability to keep the unit/group together. A woman has a natural ability to create connections, to build strong relationships, and to care for those around her.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced as an Entrepreneur?
Sujani Looms is a novelty handicraft product, and like any other dying art, it has its share of challenges. The present generation of this community does not want to continue to create these pieces as they are attracted by the new urban culture and life. Another problem is that the awareness amongst people and the government support for this segment is still quite low. This sector is still very unorganised in the way business is conducted. Lack of swatches, colour cards and quality checks make it extremely difficult for this product to be placed at an international level.
An entrepreneur should be motivating, easily adapting towards changes and most importantly leads by example. Also, one needs to always see the big picture we can’t be stuck in what we are doing and forget about the overall result.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement so far?
I believe I have been able to bring a change in the weavers’ attitude. From being someone who has come to visit them and learn about their craft, I have now become a part of their family. They have started to trust me and help me to display their craftsmanship across India.
Digitisation has given more avenues for working women as well as housewives to be able to shop and explore the world by sitting at their desk or at their homes.
What advice would you give to your fellow entrepreneurs?
However, small a contribution it is but everyone should do something that gives them self-confidence and creates a place for them in the society. It is important they create an identity for themselves and are seen as a respected individual.
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