Above: Rabari women in the Great Rann of Kutch, India.
Let us take a journey to the Great Rann of Kutch! The word Kutch (pronounced “katchh”) comes from Kachwa, meaning “a turtle that has come out of the sea”. This vast crescent-shaped region belongs to India’s second largest district, Gujarat, and is bounded by the Arabian Sea to the west and Pakistan to the north. Archeological records suggest that prehistoric man appeared in Kutch 30,000 years ago. Present-day Kutch is home to twenty-five different ethnic groups spread across more than a hundred villages. Two of those ethnic groups, the Vankars and Rabaris, are closely stitched into the Ethnotek story.
Pit loom weaving is the main form of weaving adopted by Kutchi artisans. Pit looms consist of a concrete pit dug into the ground where the weaver sits so that he is level with the loom. The pit also houses the weft paddles that the artisan operates with his feet. Pit looms are easier to set up inside the home because they don’t consume as much space as a frame loom and are also a way to beat the desert heat while working.
Above: Pit loom weaving in the Kandherai village, India.
The pit looms of Kutch use a manual throw shuttle and hand warping, which in essence is embroidery on a loom that requires great skill, attention to detail and patience. The result is stunning works of art with dancing geometric patterns whose authentic look and feel are nearly impossible to recreate on a machine.
Above: Setting warp yarn in Gujarat, India.
While it is mostly the men who do the weaving in Kutch, the process is a collective effort involving the whole family. The mother, the wife, and the sisters prepare the yarn for dying and make bobbins from yarn hanks, which they then set up into the loom’s warp in preparation for the weaving process to begin.
Above: Vishram Valji (left) transformed the weaving industry in Kutch and his son, Shamji (right) is the head of weaving programs for Ethnotek in India.
Above: Pankaj and Mina are Ethnotek-India's facilitators and the main source of communication with Shamji and the artisans.
Above: Sanjay and Suresh with their father Arjan Ramji.
Meet Sanjay and Suresh, 20-year-old twin brothers who have actively chosen to stay in the village of Kandherai to continue their family weaving business. On our sourcing trips, it is commonly seen that younger generations are becoming increasingly demotivated to carry on traditional handicraft, so it’s refreshing and inspiring to see these two champions taking matters into their own hands! The artisans in India put a high-priority on preserving their culture and see global commerce as a great vehicle for that cause. We’re proud and honored to get behind them and support that mission.
Above: Meet Premji! This lovely man is one of Ethnotek's longest standing and most loyal weavers in India. He's been with us from the beginning and we're proud to name one of our backpacks after him. He is also on the hangtags of all Indian Ethnotek products.
Premji has been friends with our head artisan, Shamji, for many years and was the first artisan commissioned to weave textiles for Ethnotek. With the weaving experience that Premji had under his belt, he needed no training to get started on fabric orders for our bags and has been with the Ethnotek-India team since the beginning. Premji is so important to us that we even feature him on the hang tags for our bags!