A brand of modesty
From its modest beginning in the late 1960s, Shrujan has grown into a globally renowned brand that offers a range of products from bags, belts, cushion covers, dupattas, stoles and kurtas to mobile covers, mufflers, quilts, saris, shawls, skirts, tops and wall hangings. Shrujan outlets showcase products which are embellished with a fabulous lineup of crafts like aari, aahir, chakan, gotanv, jat fakirani, jat garasiya, kambiro and khuditebha, katri, kharek, mukkko, neran, pakko, rabari and soof, which are the specialities of the Kutch region. Amiben Shroff reveals in detail the growth and work of Shrujan over the decades in an exclusive Q&A with Meher Castelino.
Fibre2Fashion: Please give a little background about Shrujan.
The Shrujan Story started in the summer of 1969. Kutch was ravaged by drought for the fourth year in a row. Food and hope were hard to find. My mother Chanda Shroff visited Dhaneti village in Kutch to help run a free kitchen. The women were reluctant to accept charity. But in the exquisite hand embroidery displayed on their clothing, she saw a way to enable them to earn a sustainable and dignified livelihood. This was the beginning of Shrujan (meaning creativity in Sanskrit).
Today, over three thousand five hundred craftswomen, spread over a hundred and twenty remote villages across Kutch, are part of the Shrujan family. Our craftswomen work from home. Our production team ensures that the fabrics and threads reach them wherever they are, right at their doorstep. The women do not have to pay for the materials. But we pay them their fair dues for their skill and their time, as soon as they have completed the embroidery.
The embroidered textiles are then fashioned into high quality apparel, accessories and lifestyle products, and marketed through our shops and Shrujan exhibitions. It has been an extraordinary adventure-and one that has changed all our lives. The income earned from embroidery has helped the craftswomen to secure a better future for themselves and their families. And we have a staff of 56 people.
Shrujan's founder Chanda Shroff was honoured with the Rolex Award for Enterprise in 2006.
F2F: How are the different products divided among the artisans?
We make 25 different products, they are divided into three categories-requiring very high skill, requiring high skill and requiring medium skill. Across the communities and ages we find these three levels, so the division happens by default depending on the women's capabilities.
F2F: Are orders taken or are they made regularly?
Since Shrujan is committed to work for the women and the crafts of Kutch, we provide work to the women as and when they need it. For some it is on a monthly basis, while for others once in three months. It also depends on the piece she has in hand and how long she takes to complete it. A patch can be done in 2-3 days while a heritage range sari can take upto one and a half years.
F2F: Who designs the crafts, and how long does the designing take for each product?
The craft is embroidery, and we work with 12 different communities who practice 16 styles of embroideries. The designing work of the embroidery is a collaborative effort with the Arekhni artists belonging to each of the communities and our in house designers. An Arekhni artist used to do the design work for the traditional pieces of embroidery that the women made for their own use. The time taken for design cannot be quantified. It could take a day, a week... sometimes even two weeks.
F2F: How many new designs are created every day/week/month?
We have an in-house design studio and we have around 7-8 Arekhni artists. So, the design work is constantly ongoing.
F2F: Who are the customers for the crafts and how are they informed about the new collections?
We have a regular base of customers who come to our shops when they need to or want to buy something. And, we also conduct regular exhibitions across India, for which we give outadvertisments in the leading newspapers and also do our promotions on Facebook.
F2F: Are the products sold in India or also exported?
Those are mainly sold in India, and we do some customised export job orders for customers living in England, France, Spain, Italy and Australia.
F2F: What type of promotions has Shrujan done to help the artisans?
Shrujan has been promoting the highest quality of embroidery possible in Kutch via our shops and all mediums of sales. For promoting our sales mediums we use advertisments and social media, but most importantly we have had the help of our customers who know of what we do and talk about us, our activities and our products to people they know.
F2F: How many exhibitions has Shrujan held so far?
That is impossible to count; it has been 48 years since we started, and exhibitions initially was our primary means of sales. So, we have had innumerable exhibitions.
F2F: Does Shrujan supply to other outlets around the country?
Yes we do, in Mumbai, Delhi and Baroda.
F2F: Tell us about the tie-up with Pamela Easton and how will it help Shrujan?
Shrujan has not tied up with Pamela Easton. We do job orders for her and Sudha Patel, who have tied up to create a brand called Easton Anaphora. Sudhaben is our trustee and Pamela has been a Shrujan supporter for years. They have helped us in our designs and also promoted Shrujan via the products which contain embroideries from us. For the Lakmé Fashion Week Summer/Resort 2017, Pamela and Sudhaben both designed ranges for us to showcase there.
F2F: How was the response to the Easton/Shrujan tie-up during Lakmé Fashion Week?
It has been very heartening to see the mainstream fashion world look at the traditional crafts emerging from Kutch in this new light.
F2F: You hold exhibitions in India. Do they help Shrujan financially?
Of course; in fact, the exhibitions contribute up to 40 per cent of our sales.
F2F: Does Shrujan advertise regularly?
Only for our exhibitions, as we do not have a very big budget for promotions.
F2F: How many exclusive Shrujan outlets does the company have in India?
Three-one each in Mumbai, Ahmedabad and in Bhujodi at our headquarters.
F2F: How many franchisee outlets does Shrujan have?
None so far.
F2F: Do you have well-known designers working with you?
Yes, Sudha Patel and Harita Kapoor.
F2F: Who guides the women in designing the products?
In Shrujan's working, the responsibility of the product design lies with the organisation and our in-house designers. The responsibilities of the embroidery design with our design studio, Arekhni artisans and the embroidery artisans all together. For the embroidery, the guidance is given by the grandmothers of the community.
F2F: What is the pricing for the Shrujan products?
product prices range from mobile covers at `800 to heritage range saris at `2,00,000.
F2F: What is the marketing and advertising strategy for the products?
Mainly through Facebook and via our exhibitons.
F2F: What is the budget for promotions of the Shrujan brand?
Around `20 lakh per year, including our exhibitions.
F2F: Shrujan has been in business for several decades. What have been the challenges for the brand?
Shrujan was started by my mother 4-5 years before my birth; so the challenges were faced by her and her partners. I began working with Shrujan 19 years ago and have had the responsibility of playing translator for her interviews. In all this time whenever asked about the challenges faced she would answer that none really, because life brings you problems and you just have to find a solution for them. The attitude that the whole team has is the same. But if pressed the only one that comes to mind is sales in the slow months or fundraising for some of our non-income generating activities.
F2F: What is difficult or easy to make a brand known in the beginning?
They started Shrujan in the late 1960s and early 1970s. That was the time when synthetic fabric was the most in fashion and hand-made and natural fibre was not considered stylish. Yet, at that time they found people like themselves who loved crafts and handloom fabrics. Shrujan is a brand that was popularised more by word of mouth through these lovers and supporters of crafts. Since our production was also not that high, we had a market size that we could cater to. It took the droughts, the earthquake and the 2006 Rolex award for mainstream media to start looking at us and talking about us, and for us to increase the number of people we work with and support.
F2F: What is the production like? How many pieces of each product category is made in a month?
Since the working of the organisation is completely decentralised and the women work from their own homes in their free time, with some women having free time of few hours per week to some women working for six hours per day five days a week. The production is not standardised and need not be because each piece produced is unique. Our annual production is 15,000 pieces ranging from small pouches to very heavily embroidered blouses.
F2F: What are the different fabrics used for the products?
We use only natural fibre based fabrics. So cottons, silks, linen and wool are the base fabrics used for our products.
F2F: What are the different types of crafts that are highlighted in the products?
Shrujan's focus is on the craft of hand embroidery emerging from Kutch. But since the hand embroidery has to be done on fabrics, we use as many handcrafted fabrics that we can like ajrakh block printing, bandhni from Kutch and hand weaving from Kutch, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Banaras and Maheshwar.
F2F: There is a lot of competition from different NGOs now in the craft field. How does Shrujan handle it?
Each of the NGOs working in Kutch has consciously tried to work with different groups and products. We try and not get into competition with each other, but also work on collaborating with each other especially during times of crisis. The middle-men or private parties who work in the sector are not able to offer the quality that we do. So, the discerning customers usually come to either us or go to one of the other organisations.
F2F: What are the future plans of Shrujan regarding retail, designing and promotions?
We hope over the next few years to find retail partners across India where we can stock our products and also participate in group shows which showcase similar products. We also hope to be able to tie up with some of the younger designers who love handloom and crafts as much as we do to come up with fresh looks for our embroidery and products.
F2F: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Shrujan now has an institute called Living and Learning Design Centre based in Kutch which houses the most contemporary textile museum galleries, a research wing and conducts regular workshops with the craftspeople to innovate on new looks for the crafts.