Commercial Craftsmanship

Briana Turnbull

January 14th

This morning we journeyed through Delhi, winding our way in a bus through impossibly narrow streets with noisy and unpredictable traffic, to reach the small factory of Sonica Sarna Design. Sonica met us there and began the visit with a short lecture on her philosophy of ethical design and production.

Basically, Sonica works as an ethical sourcing agent for companies and designers. She trains artisans around India to modernize and commercialize their craft and then steers customers toward sourcing the hand made goods. She works with companies like Lee, Wrangler, and Schwiing, among others.

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A bag sourced by Sonica Sarna that utilizes handwoven ikat fabric.

She explained that not all of the companies she works with are extremely interested in the ethics of sourcing these goods but that if she can provide them with beautiful materials that they can’t find elsewhere then they will choose to source ethically. Her focus is on training artisans to change their craft enough that it can be applicable to a wider market. Helping them to design things that are commercial makes it possible for them to be employed while they continue living in their villages and creating crafts that many of them spent a lifetime learning.

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A beautiful handwoven scarf for the modern consumer. The textile was designed and sourced by Sonica Sarna.

I think this business model is a genius way to employ artisans and keep dying crafts alive, but there are others who do not interpret it in the same way. Another student interpreted this model as problematic because she felt that changing the artisans craft by incorporating untraditional motifs, colors, and designs doesn’t actually preserve traditional Indian craft, it just westernizes it. Others wondered if the craft will still die with the next generation because the artisans now make enough money to send their children off to college where they can pursue other careers.

While I found these concerns to be very interesting I still think that this business model is a positive thing. Regardless of whether or not the end product looks traditional or dies off in the future, the artisans are currently able to practice the crafts that they have dedicated their lives to learning and earn fair wages doing it, all while remaining in their villages. Would it really be better to let the craft die away completely than to help them to commercialize it for a modern consumer?

Check out Sonica Sarna Designs online and decide for yourself.

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