Give back with a scarf: 2012-2013 Minerva Fellow raises money to fund solar panel

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By Jessica Sarrantonio

Restless. If there is one word that can epitomize the entrepreneurial spirit that has entered me since my time in India as a Minerva Fellow, then that’s it, simply restless. For those of you who don’t know, I was the 2012-2013 Fellow who had the pleasurable challenge to live in the block printing community of Bagru.

This April will be a year since I left, but the passion and spirit that I left India with is still burning inside me.Since then, I have started my own very small venture called Sweetheart Scarves. Not only does this opportunity ensure that I stay in contact with some of the artisans that played such a valuable role in my time in Bagru, it also has proven to be a challenging undertaking!

Still in its infancy, Sweetheart Scarves aspires to fuse traditional hand block printed scarves with contemporary creativity. A lot of the designs in Bagru were paisleys and flowers, which were just not for me. I am hoping to find a niche in the market that will appreciate the uniqueness of a hand block print, but at the same time go crazy over something that is a little different.

I released my first official collection, the Skyline Collection, in early December. The good news is that I have sold a few pieces, but I haven’t sold nearly as many as I would have liked. More recently I started to sell a Makar Sankranti Skyline design. Wait! A what? Though this is traditionally a Hindu celebration of the New Year, Makar Sakranti is an Indian kite festival celebrated by Hindus, Muslims and Jains alike.

Kites could be seen in the sky days before and days after Jan. 14 (the day of Makar Sakranti). I was schooled in how to fly a kite and more importantly how to fight a kite! Locals use a special kind of kite string called manjha, which is sharp to give you an edge over your opponent in a kite fight.

My cut up fingers could attest to it! Moreover, this skyline is not a generic town in India; rather, it is Bagru itself. From the children jumping in the streets to yank cut kites out of the sky, to the poorly constructed buildings, and the drying fabric of the artisans, for anyone who has been to Bagru this skyline is very evocative.

I have been working closely with a particular artisan named Deepak Chhipa, who was inspired by the work of Bagru Textiles to make his own, socially accountable company, the Block Print House. He and the artisans who work in his factory printed the most recent Makar Sakranti design. This deep red scarf was created especially for your sweetheart for Valentines Day!

Hand-printed and hand-dyed, it is created using two locally made colors of Bagru: beger, a red color made from crushed alum, water and natural gum, and shahi, a black color made from iron and sugarcane. No, that doesn’t mean the scarf is actually sweet, but what  happens with the proceeds is! As many of you have heard, India is a vastly diverse country, and Bagru is no exception to that rule. While there are booming textile businesses, there is also a significant amount of poverty.

Slums are not just an urban problem in India, but also a problem in semi-rural towns like Bagru. Towards the end of my fellowship I came across one such slum, where a small school building had been constructed. There are volunteer teachers and it really seemed to be the center of this community. Unfortunately, the school has no electricity, which means no light, fans, or other electronics.

Proceeds from your order of a Sweetheart Scarf will be put towards an already existing fund that will be used to purchase a solar panel for this school. Though it is only one small step towards giving back, it is a step. When we think about any endeavor, be it a business, a non-profit organization, a government or a family, the success or failure of it waxes and wanes based on all of the correct or incorrect steps that are taken to build it.I hope that you enjoy my designs and that you, too, will find a restless ambition. Help ensure a sweet Valentine’s Day around the world with a scarf for your Sweetheart! Order from our Etsy page at http://www.etsy.com/shop/jessicasarrantonio and for any questions or inquires feel free to email us at [email protected].

 

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