The Indus Valley School (IVS) in Karachi, one of Pakistan’s most prestigious design schools, is hosting a revolutionary event. Some 30 village artisans (and more than a few children) have arrived for a week long workshop. Here they will work on the first samples of the basketry, jewellery and other products they have co-designed with senior design students and their teachers. In March 2014, these will go on sale under their recently conceived brand ‘Kahani’, meaning ‘Story’. They conceived this name to depict a brand of products crafted by people who have kept alive centuries of the best of Pakistani artisan tradition.
To date not a single project in Pakistan has developed such a partnership, says Michael Huisman, financial manager with the Dutch organization Butterfly Works (BfW) that is behind this idea. As partner of Oxfam Novib on the EU-funded EQUATE project, it was they who suggested the idea of improving the lives of the village artisans in Sindh by teaming them up with local and international designers to create a unique brand story and products.
And Indus Valley School was happy to come on board. “We have never before had courses that went beyond making designs and samples to create a cooperative or business to produce and market them”, explains project design manager Ghazal. She and her colleagues are very enthusiastic to be part of creating a model that will take their students beyond the theory to develop products, identify a market, and even establish a business model to apply in real life.
And developing that business model will be quite a challenge, says Michael, who is currently investigating a financial model to use for the cooperative. “The challenges begin with such simple issues as to how to pay the artisans for their products, as they have no bank accounts”.
What is truly unchartered territory, however, is that the design students from elite Pakistani families will be forming this cooperative with village women.
While the women of Sindh have strong skills and traditions, their conventional designs and limited range of products have not kept pace with changing tastes and production technologies, in part due to their lack of knowledge of the markets.
And so the project established a partnership with IVS to bring together young Pakistani designers with village artisans. The idea is to design a new product range by combining local traditions with modern designs, colours and product lines, and using the formidable experience of Butterfly Works (BfW) and IVS’ on national and international markets to expand the women's sales reach and improve their incomes.
The most revolutionary part of the collaboration was back in August when the faculty students went into the field to work with the women, says Ineke Aquarius, the BfW project manager. For the artisans it was a major mind shift. Used to learning skills that have been passed down during generations, being asked to innovate was a whole new experience.
It was new for the designers too. In the past, design students from the elite school have occasionally asked the village artisans to make up samples of their designs. They’ve never actually collaborated with them before. And now they are spending weeks together to learn from, and influence, each other.
After that, back in the Netherlands, the ideas were further elaborated by international and Indus Valley designers into a first collection of 52 items.
The workshop that took place in October 2013 was stage three of the ground-breaking collaboration. At this stage the women were working with the designers and their teachers to learn together how to make the new products. After that production will begin in earnest. The stakes are high. The women want this to be a brand that can generate so much business in this very new market that it will provide work for a large number of women.
In March the IVS will open a shop in Karachi and the project will organize an exhibition to which they’re hoping to bring in national and international buyers interested to buy products that have a rich story. With such a tight deadline, it didn’t take the teams long to get down to work.
Oxfam Novib Project
EQUATE – Enhancing Quality and Access to Technical and Vocational Education
Contributions and Aim:
Oxfam Novib with co-financing of European Union and in partnership with Research and Development Foundation, Indus Resource Centre and Butterfly Works is implementing the EQUATE project in three districts iof Sindh province in Pakistan, namely. Khairpur, Dadu and Jamshoro. The project aims to equip 3200 poor youth with marketable skills and thereby improve their livelihoods. It also help 1600 craftswomen produce items for new brand Kahani in partnership with national and international designers.
Sindh province of Pakistan
explains project design manager Ghazal.