Women of Kutch

Check out the pictures of the Ahir and Rabari women. Rabaris were typically nomadic camel herders and I think Ahirs were cow herders.  Many are no longer nomadic or doing their traditional occupations. One impact of this is that the younger generation is getting a better eduction, but have less time and interest in learning the beautiful embroidery that is their tradition.

A few other things to note:

– Many of these groups make several heavily embroidered tops as part of their dowry. It is an indication of their skills, too. However, these days many women pay others to make the tops that will become part of their dowry. Not sure how this impacts their selection of a groom for marriage.

– Rabari women have many tattoos on their legs, arms, neck, sometimes even face. They said it is all ornamentation, like henna, but permanent. They get it when they are young, like 10 years old. But they said this practice has mostly died out and children do not get tattooed these days.

– The Rabari women’s blouses are completely backless!! They typically wear the shawl over their head and back, so you would never know. But if you catch a glimpse, it is quite revealing for how conservative their cultures is!

Ahir women

Ahir women

Rabari women - traditionally nomadic camel herders

Rabari women – traditionally nomadic camel herders

Tattooed at the age of ten as ornamentation (like henna, but permanent!)

Tattooed at the age of ten as ornamentation (like henna, but permanent!)

Even the neck is tattooed

Even the neck is tattooed

Inspiration from the runways of Kutch

Yes, you heard me right.  Last Saturday night attended the fashion show displaying the creations of the Kala Raksha Vidhalaya graduates from this year.  Kala Raksha Vidhalaya (KRV) is an organization founded by Judy Frater in Kutch to provide design training to artisans in the area. She found that while their work is admired and respected, designers from all over the world were coming to Kutch and handing over their own designs to the artisans, effectively turning the artisans into laborers.  She wanted to provide the artisans with design training so they could be innovative with developing their own designs and not risk losing their skills that have been in their families for generations.

The year-long program was developed with local customs in mind, so classes are separated by gender.  Many women would feel too timid being in class with men and would feel less confident in developing innovative designs.  There are six sessions, including Color, Basic Design, Market Orientation, Concept and Communication, Finishing and Collection Development, Presentation.  Students live on campus for two-week sessions and then go back to their villages to work on the assignments for several weeks.  They are paired with design students from prestigious schools around the world to help them think about their inspiration and skills and apply them in new ways.  The culmination of the program is a fashion show and convocation.

I was impressed with the professionalism of the fashion show. KRV was sure to respect every student’s work with a true runway and real models showing off their designs.  After modeling each designer’s clothes, the designer would go on stage and take a round.  I was inspired to see so many of them showing off their work and really taking risks that they would normally have been too timid to take.  After the weekend I visited one of the alums from a past year that specializes in block printing. He said that he had benefitted quite a bit from his time at KRV, as he now does block prints that include new and different designs from his traditional Ajrakh designs. He also has contracts with major buyers like Fabindia and Good Earth.

Pics from the fashion show below!

Color Wheel made by an artisan

Color Wheel made by an artisan

The same artisan's concept board

The same artisan’s concept board

Developing embroidery patterns based on the inspiration

Developing embroidery patterns based on the inspiration

Garment produced as part of a new line

Garment produced as part of a new line

Another cool concept board. This one based on Indian Railways!

Another cool concept board. This one based on Indian Railways!

Model showing off a top from the new collection

Model showing off a top from the new collection

An artisan taking a walk down the runway after his segment in the fashion show

An artisan taking a walk down the runway after his segment in the fashion show

Another artisan taking a walk down the runway after his segment in the fashion show

Another artisan taking a walk down the runway after his segment in the fashion show

Convocation of this year's batch of KRV graduates

Convocation of this year’s batch of KRV graduates