The Art of Caring: Fair Trade Textiles from India

In Sanskrit, sévya means “caring through service.” Three years ago, Kovida Das from the state of Gujarat in western India, and Joan Rasch from Grand Rapids, Michigan, put the concept into practice by founding a company that helps preserve India’s indigenous art forms, including weaving, metal work and block printing.

Living culture

“Weaving and embroidery skills are passed from mother to daughter,” Das says. “If even one generation loses the tradition, it could be lost forever.” In Indian villages, cultural art forms are threatened by poverty. To earn a living, many village artists must leave to take menial jobs in cities.

Path to change

Das and Rasch foster relationships with artisan groups in rural areas and pay them a fair wage. Certified by the Fair Trade Federation, Sévya buys from small-scale, independent artists who work in safe, healthy conditions.

Textiles for the planet

At every opportunity, Das and Rasch purchase textile art made from eco-friendly materials, including organic cotton, botanical dyes and cruelty-free silk. “Chemical dyes from the textile industry cause terrible pollution,” Das says. “And dye factory workers have a lifespan of 35 to 42 years.”

Rags to riches

Among Sévya’s success stories is its work with the Gramshree Trust in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Women do elaborate embroidery and piecework at home or at a center where there’s a babysitter–and they choose their own work hours. Before the Trust, many of the women lived in slums and were ragpickers; now they support their families by creating purses, quilts, apparel and pillows.

Creative accomplishment

“I love working with artists and seeing their lives improve,” Rasch says. “They have more confidence, and there’s economic and social security for women. It’s wonderful to see them taking pride in their culture.”

Support India’s arts

“You can help the world just by being a conscious consumer,” Das says. Sévya has retail stores in Boulder, Colorado, and at the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam ashram near Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. Fair trade goods are also available online.

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