Artisan Spotlight: Gorgeous Handmade Apparel Provides Fair Wages for Thousands

GreaterGood is dedicated to sourcing one-of-a-kind items produced by skilled artisans, helping to grow local economies, and working to make a real impact in people’s lives. One of our suppliers, Sarc, exemplifies our dedication to this mission.

It takes a village to make a piece of clothing—or at least it does when you purchase one of these inspiring apparel items from the GreaterGood store. As it’s created, each unique and beautiful tunic, jacket, top, or dress will change hands several times, with each person contributing one small element to the finished product.

Located in Jaipur, India, Sarc employs nearly 3,000 people in its factory and surrounding villages. So when you buy an item from the GreaterGood store, your purchase helps support people in impoverished and rural parts of India who might not otherwise make a decent living wage. Sarc’s owner, Sumit Kabra, says his workers get paid 40 to 60 percent more than the average wage for the area and as high as 80 percent more for skilled laborers.

Photo: Labels are sewn into finished products

That’s one of the most wonderful things about these pieces of clothing—your purchase keeps men and women of impoverished areas employed and well-paid so they can put food on the table for their families, send their children to school, and break the cycle of poverty. It also protects their culture and gives them a space to share their village’s art with the world.

Photo: Quality control ensures each garment meets expectations

The lifecycle of one of these gorgeous garment is a long one that involves transportation between the factory and different villages several times. First, fabrics are sourced from southern India, and factory employees cut and sew them into the right shapes for the garments they’ll be when they’re finished. Then the pieces are sent out to one of more than 25 villages, based on the dyeing process they’re destined to receive. After drying in the open air, it’s off to another village to be embroidered and embellished if needed. Then the garments travel to a new village to be block printed, stenciled, or textured. Finally, if the garments need post-design embellishment and embroidery, they’re sent to another village for that work. Quality control checks are performed at the factory in between each of these steps to ensure that the garments are the best they can be, and then they’re packaged at the factory for shipping.

Left: Tags are added to finished products
Right: Garments hang in rows to dry after dyeing

Each garment has its own individual journey based on its design, and some are more complex than others. The new Butterflies at Play Hooded Jacket, for example, is first sent to a village to be direct dyed, which means it’s simply dipped in a solution of dye and hot water. Later, after drying, embroidering, and quality control, it is sent out to receive three more design techniques at a nearby village. Workers block print the butterflies on it with a carved wooden block dipped in pigment. Then they cover the garment with a flower stencil and spray more pigment in a lighter color over the top. Lastly, they go over the piece with a soft brush dipped in hyposulfite to give it a textured effect. The end result is a soft pattern of flowers and butterflies on a tri-colored background.

Left: Finished Butterflies at Play Hooded Jacket
Right: Worker puts finishing touches on a garment

Some of the processes performed on these garments, such as Bagru and Sanganeri block dyeing, are unique to the particular Indian villages in which they are conducted and are even protected under the 1999 Geographical Indications of Goods Act so that they cannot be replicated in other locations. But regardless of whether the dyeing process used on a particular garment is protected by law, there’s no doubt that the garment itself is unlike anything you can buy in another store.

The Mystic Rose Hooded Jacket, for example, is a work of art you won’t find anywhere else. It goes through a unique dyeing process, called batiking, in which villagers apply hot wax to the garment both via stamp blocks and by dripping the wax on with a paintbrush. The garment is dyed in cold water and then rinsed in hot water to wash off the wax, leaving behind a distinctive rose pattern on the richly colored jacket.

Left: Finished Mystic Rose Hooded Jacket
Right: A worker adds wax to garment for batik dyeing

Kabra says the village clusters he works with often represent specialized crafts that are not practiced elsewhere in the world. While Sarc and GreaterGood work to acknowledge and preserve these traditional processes, they also must be modernized to stay alive in our world today. By updating old traditions for a modern world, we ensure that there will be a market for them, enabling them to be respected and preserved in the future. “It’s like a marriage,” Kabra says.

The newly released Marble Mandala Hooded Jacket is an example of a traditional but updated art form. The jacket fabric goes through a process known as marble dyeing, in which a dyeing specialist carefully mixes dyes in a shallow pool with a stir stick until the desired pattern is achieved. Then a small team of workers must carefully place the fabric flat on top of the water. The fabric is dried and cut to shape, sewn together, and block printed with a beautiful mandala-shaped stamp block before finishing touches are added. The result is a jacket for the modern-day woman that celebrates artistic traditions going back hundreds of years.

Photo: Marble dyeing process and finished Marble Mandala Hooded Jacket

Kabra says that, over the years, he’s seen huge changes in the villages he works with, many of which now have full-time electricity, water, sanitation systems, paved roads, and better transportation. The people living in these areas have gone from living in mud huts to moving their families to more stable brick or stone houses, and their children are able to go to school.

“They are happy and satisfied,” says Kabra. “The children go to good schools. General lifestyle has improved a lot in the past two decades.”

Photo: A worker irons a newly dyed jacket

Because most of the people employed here are married and have an average of two kids, roughly 8,000 to 10,000 people are affected by the high wages your purchases support and have a better quality of life because of it. For many families, this means the difference between keeping children at home and being able to afford to send them to school. That means more than 4,000 children are able to get an education each year that might not have been able to before, and doing so will enable these kids to grow up to get good jobs and provide well for their families. In this way, GreaterGood is helping to break the cycle of poverty for rural Indian communities.

Photo: Quality control workers sift through piles of jackets to make sure every detail is right

Check out the video below to learn more about how the work of thousands of people brings to life some unique and beautiful pieces of clothing and how GreaterGood is working to change impoverished communities for the better:

There’s so much more than just cloth and dye and thread that goes into the beautiful garments GreaterGood sells in our online store. When you purchase one of these fair-trade items, you can wear it proudly, knowing that you are both making a fashion statement and supporting people in need. Check out more products you can be proud to wear in the GreaterGood store.

Elizabeth Nelson

Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?

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