By Caroline Hershey
In the last 60 years, exports from India have exponentially increased. Cheap labor and mass production have become a requirement for anybody doing business with India. Over winter break, a group of students visited a team of Minerva Fellows in Bagru, a small town outside of Jaipur, India that has been producing hand printed textiles for over 300 years.
As the surrounding developing countries have begun to industrialize rapidly, this kind of social work has become increasingly relevant. Many importers demand that products be made fast and cheap, comprising agriculture and environmental standards.
Companies like Wal-mart that have been criticized for destroying local business, exploiting cheap labor and ignoring quality standards have begun to plant retail seeds in countries that had once been used solely for production, such as China and India.
In India, the global textile marketplace is in such a state that from the time of production until the point at which a consumer buys a product at a store, the product changes hands a half dozen times. Thus, profit that belongs to the artisans is compromised.
But this issue is being addressed by a social entrepreneurs, including Union graduates. In 2010, the college sent Jeremy Fritzhand ‘10 to India on a Minerva Fellowship with a plan to take a different approach.
“The idea behind my Minerva fellowship project was to directly bridge the gap between artisan and consumer,” said Fritzhand.
He added that, since his arrival, the project had become so successful that he decided to continue to live in the community and team up with the next year’s Minerva Fellow Emily Lacroix ‘11 and see the project become sustainable.
In February, Fritzhand and Lacroix’s work will culminate with the launch of Bagrutextiles.com. Just as Fritzhand had originally imagined, the artisans who are on the ground doing the centuries old craft of hand block printing will finally be directly connected to their niche in the international textile market place. This eliminates all middle men who previously capitalized on the artisans’ inability to reach their final consumer.
“Bagrutextiles.com is a mix between Amazon and Facebook for the rural artisan community, giving them the tools they need to sell directly and create visibility in a marketplace that rarely spotlights the artisan,” said Fritzhand.
In the midst of India’s transition from rural to modern, the Fellows have proven that among the obstacles caused by modernization and mass factory production, it is possible for an ancient art form to thrive and compete in the international market.