Chennai-based craft enterprise Zola India brings together the varied forms from across India through a range of wearable accessories. Gina Joseph, the brain behind the venture, coupled the inspiration from art and architecture with her innate passion for jewellery. Zola India has held design workshops across the craft belts the brand has been associated within the different states. While the challenges for the craftspersons are selling at a low price through a middleman and not having the right access to the right markets, this is where Zola steps in, explained Gina. “Once I identify the crafts I want to work with or revive, I wear on my design hat and get in touch with individual artisans or artisan clusters across rural India and conduct a design workshop in their villages. Post the workshop, the jewellery is retailed at online and offline stores and exhibitions.”
The intervention and expertise rendered by her have indeed transformed lives. “One of my artisans told me that he could now afford better education for his two children and also improve his standard of living significantly after he started working with me. Another artisan from Andhra Pradesh said he has started paying part of his house loan from the earnings of Zola. In Orissa the women artisans I work with have promised to continue sending their daughters to school as a part of the income goes towards the girl child’s education,” she said.
Even as she pores through the multitude of crafts for her projects, there is a constant stumbling block — the unorganised nature of the handicrafts and handloom sector in India. However, retaining the identity of the form to tell a new story is more challenging. She said, “In each piece of Zola, only the form changes, the language remains the same; so it’s not only interesting for me as a designer to create a product that is woven with the culture and the innumerable stories of artisans of India, but also an exciting new canvas for the artisan to create something new and find a market for those products in the global market. I let the artist/craftsman do what he is comfortable with, only the form changes, in my case they become pretty jewellery with a story.”
Eyeing Madhya Pradesh and Bihar among other states, Gina is also deeply concerned about the extinction of a number of crafts. “Roghan paintings in Rajasthan, Cherial of Andhra, Patola of Gujrat, Bidri of Karnataka, Mithila of Bihar, beadwork of Madhya Pradesh and leather puppetry of Karnataka are among crafts that have died or dying out soon,” she said.