Why the world needs craft
Imagine a world where everything that is exchanged, bought, used and consumed is made by machine, on an assembly line. Where every item is judged only on its functionality, valued for its utility, and on its ability to achieve economy of scale. Devoid of colour, originality, meaning and context, every object is made in a vacuum where the margin for error is nil and the margin for profit, is king. This is the world we are building. Is it a world worth living in?
When I started the journey towards sustainable craft two years ago, I didn’t think that it would lead me into what I now know is my life’s calling. I wasn’t sure that this would be my way of making the world a better place. I’d just followed an instinct to bring the beauty of fabric stories to life in a way that was accessible, relatable, and desirable. Stepping into a universe of warp and weft, natural botanical dyes, heritage printing and weaving looms brought new words into my vocabulary. Words such as khadi, the handspun cotton also known as Gandhi’s freedom fabric, and concepts like jugaad, the block printers way of describing innovating with what you have. I called the company MATTER, because it celebrates the building blocks that connect all of us – stories, craft, and values.
I am convinced that the world needs craft, more than ever. It is not an esoteric practice to be relegated to museums and history; it cannot be a sunset industry to be replaced by efficient machinery. It must transform and evolve, aided by technology, given access through digital storytelling, made sustainable by industry practice. But before that, we must be able to articulate why it is important, why it is not a foregone luxury, and why indeed, it makes our lives better.
It is love in a material, shareable form.
Every piece of craft is an extension of its maker’s life work to master a skill encompassing his or her own unique signature. When we know the care that goes into a product that takes 120 days to make, passing through more than 10 steps and 20 people in its journey, we understand the love that has gone into it. When we learn about the context in which something is made and the lives of those who made it, a connection is made between people who otherwise might have little in common. A Chiangmai weaver renowned for her mastery of colour once told me that she could read the emotions of another weaver just by looking at the colours used on her loom. A customer of ours was inspired enough to travel to Jaipur to visit Khushiram, our 4th generation artisan partner and learn about his craft. We love each other more through the beauty we create.
It reminds us how and why we are human.
We are born to create. Our species evolved by making and mastering tools, attaining and transmitting skills from generation to generation, and from there, learning the pride of taking something from idea to creation. In the inconsistency of each piece created or appreciated, we embrace the philosophy of wabi sabi and the reality of transience and imperfection. When we explain that the banding (also called ‘patta’) and colour gradience often seen on handloom fabrics are actually signals of rest pauses where the weaver has taken a break from the loom, something which otherwise is an industrial defect becomes a detail we empathise with. Imagine we took this approach to understanding the imperfection of people?
It teaches us to value the journey.
The value of craft is in its making. Understanding the process behind the final product brings to light the value chain of creation and the multiple forms of value to assess, a sustainability concept often used in discussions around closed loop or circular production models. The more we understand the interconnected pieces of the supply chain behind a product, the better choices we can make around our consumption choices. The fabric we work with takes time because its making intersects with the serendipity of weather and weddings – sunshine, rain and humidity are key factors in the fabrics’ final colour and the availability of certain yarn, as are the import of weddings on the schedule of rural villagers. Understanding how something is the result of multiple interactions and relationships with its environment reminds us that how we do something is as important as what we do.
Craft means much so more than handmade.
It is the story of humanity’s striving for meaning, and our individual desire for significance. Its values teach us love, empathy, and wisdom. Emphasising small batch production, the maker’s unique skill, integrity of raw materials, the direct involvement of handmade techniques and the importance of context and traditional tools, the resurgence of craft is already rippling through the food and fashion industry, albeit in niche areas. In order for it to take hold, we need to spread the message that where and why something is made, by whom, matters.
Renyung Ho is Founder & CEO of MATTER – a socially motivated brand of affordable luxury, thoughtful design and provenance. MATTER connects rural textile artisans and urban designers to create travel wear with stories to tell. We seek out heritage fabric techniques and connect them to modern day relevance in beautiful ways. Our mission is to foster designer-artisan collaborations, to inspire consumers to value provenance and process, and to pioneer sustainable industry change for rural textile community.