Manchaha Part 1: What is Artisan Originals?

I joined Jaipur Rugs Foundation on September 19th with a pretty strong idea on what I was going to be working on and why. I was to be in charge of rebranding, re-launching, and reinvigorating the Artisan Originals collection. But what does this exactly mean?

Sometime in 2015, through Jaipur Rugs’ many field experiments, an amazing light bulb moment occurred. The experiment’s premise was to see what would happen when three different weavers were tasked with working together to come up with a completely original design. Given the myriad of personalities and skill level, the first few feet of knotting were all over the place in terms of design. As the experiment continued, a sense of harmony amongst the three women took over, leading to a symmetrical finish and the carpet, Anthar, was born.

Anthar Rug

Instead of grading the end result as a failure, a few powerful insights emerged.

Insight 1: Whether unharmonious or unorthodox, Anthar or differences are beautiful, even more so, when they’re resolved without external influences.

Insight 2: The weavers aren’t just craftswomen, they’re human first. And being human means they have experiences, thoughts, and goals that play a huge role in their life and consequently, into their work.

These insights posed the question that gave way to Manchaha (Made from the heart).

“What happens when weavers are given the resources and freedom to express themselves in the form a rug?”

What: Manchaha is an experiment turned movement for artistic exploration, professional growth, and empowerment in multiple capacities. As products, they are original – a new definition of both art and luxury. As a weaver’s tool, they aim to boost confidence and find out just how creative one can be when given the chance. As a Jaipur Rugs line, it’s a marketing testing ground and an exclamation point on the tapestry industry, adding a bit of fun and excitement to what’s generally a restrained field. As a social impact platform, it’s a gauge of how innovative we need to be moving forward, in order to grow and sustain livelihoods with more than just a paycheck and a pat on the back.

Why: Manchaha focuses on bringing one-of-a-kind rugs that also double as captivating storytellers, into the homes of their buyers. On the weaver’s side, what may often be seen as manual and constrained labor is now looked at as an opportunity to flex creative muscles and express themselves on a very large, familiar canvas. Some are intrinsically artistic, others have hidden talent that comes out through this work, and to be able to go from laborer to designer builds a level of confidence that’s amazing to witness and profound when harnessed.

Sustainability: Manchaha is set out to accomplish two very different but equally important types of sustainability. As the world becomes more populated and the supply of resources shrinks, Jaipur Rugs is determined to ensure that every centimeter of yarn is utilized. Thus, Manchaha uses whatever yarn is leftover from our more prevalent consumer-facing lines to craft these one-off pieces. Due to the materials being leftover from other lines, the colors and textures provided to the artisans are as diverse as their designs. They are sent over 50+ color shades of wool and bamboo silk to choose from and given complete freedom in terms of patterns, intricacy, inspiration, and time to completion.

The second sustainability goal is to revive and maintain the centuries-old art of hand-knotting rugs in India. Through financial empowerment, proper training, and a constantly available support system, the art is kept alive for both present individuals and generations to come.

Mandir by Soniya Devi

How: Due to the weavers’ generally shy demeanors and inexperience as designers, a little persuasion is required. Jaipur Rugs hosts multiple Manchaha Workshops to provide motivation and inspiration to the artisan weavers but also to collect insights and trends in their design thought processes. The activities consist of art appreciation, arts & crafts, and insights & exploration. The team provides images of art to the weavers and asks them to analyze them, then the team explains how this art is perceived by both the artist and general community. This is to show them about current art and color trends but also that most art is inspired by the day-to-day life of the respective artist. With arts and crafts through magazine collage making, painting, and coloring, the weavers are able to express their ideas of art. Finally, the insights & exploration asks the weavers to focus on what’s happening in their lives and around their community on a high-level basis. This allows Jaipur Rugs to provide the necessary materials and support.  

From the first rug Anthar to the Artisan Originals rugs of today, there has been a lot of innovation in training and design thinking that is provided to the artisans on a consistent basis. Individual styles have emerged but also similarities amongst rugs from different villages leading to trends correlated directly with the lifestyles of these rural artisans.

Vipin was born in India but hasn't spent time there since his move to the U.S. at age 6. He understands the magnitude of change the country has gone through in the last 21 years but is now thrilled to experience it first-hand. He hopes to use his skills in digital marketing and technology to help bridge the gap between untapped artisans, skills building, and leadership training at Jaipur Rugs Foundation. Before becoming an AIF Clinton Fellow, he's had the unique experience of working directly with AIF as a volunteer with the New York Young Professionals Chapter for the past four years to raise funds and awareness about AIF's programs among young South Asian professionals. One of his goals is to see if what he's learned as a physically distant volunteer, effectively translates to the work required on the ground. Another goal? He wants to try as many regional varieties of biryani as his ten months will allow him to stomach and see if his current favorite, the hometown Hyderabadi variant, can be topped.

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