Studio Bagru: Slow Fashion for a Fast Society
With UK MPs recently rejecting calls for clothing retailers to address their impact on the environment, the sell-out £1 Missguided bikini, and brands such as Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing leading the market, you’d be forgiven for thinking we’re in a fast fashion whirlwind.
But there are positive things afoot! The David Attenborough effect is adding new life to the ‘reduce, re-use, recycle’ movement and consumers are choosing second-hand selling sites, charity shops and clothes swaps for their next garments. One way to revamp your wardrobe, whilst reducing your impact on the environment, is to ‘upcycle’ your pair of old trousers or stained t-shirt to give it a new, fresh look.
We are collaborating with Studio Bagru, a slow fashion social enterprise based in India, for a block printing workshop on Saturday 6 July to teach us about this craft that has existed in Bagru for 350 years. I spoke with Founder, Jeremy Fritzhand, ahead of the workshop to find out more about the studio, his thoughts on the fashion industry, and what he has planned for us at the workshop.
Can you tell us how your passion for Bagru’s block printing community started?
I visited Bagru in India ten years ago as a final year college student in New York, where I had a tour of the printing community. I was blown away by the craftsmanship of the Chhipa people and the fact these beautiful, handmade garments were selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars back home. It was clear that the artisans were disenfranchised by the way the supply chain was set up. Middlemen and wholesalers were reaping the benefits of the trade due to their ability to market and sell the products to buyers. I saw extreme passion and pride in the craft and a desire to grow. It was at this time that I came up with an idea to educate the artisans about branding, marketing, and e-commerce.
How did this lead to creating Studio Bagru?
In June 2010, I moved to Bagru to work with the block printing community. My initial goal was to increase the wages of the artisans and to get them a fair price for the stunning products they were creating. By September that year, I had come up with the name - Bagru Textiles – and we got started on tumblr and etsy and it blossomed from there.
By early 2016 we were ready to open Studio Bagru as an expanded vision of Bagru Textiles, which works with up and coming designers who care about our vision of promoting this slow craft. We now work with clients across the US, UK and Morocco, supplying quality, naturally sourced apparel by the local Chhipa people.
Do you think we’re at a point where consumers are considering the impact their clothes are having on the environment?
I think we are right there between the peak and the downturn in seeing fast fashion going out of style and moving in a new direction. We are seeing a shift at the top, with influencers such as celebrities and models changing their mindset about the brands that they support. The mainstream looks up to them for their buying decisions and are starting to ask brands “who made my clothes?”. The Fashion Revolution movement is putting more emphasis on the story of a product, as opposed to the price.
Conscious consumption is so important and we push to educate consumers about the products they buy and the social and environmental effects those purchases have. This means researching products before buying and only purchasing products that a consumer truly loves.
How does your studio contribute to this?
Our main purpose is to promote slow, conscious fashion, which means that as many parts of the process as possible are done by hand. From the designing, to the weaving of the fabric, the printing of the design, and the manufacture of the product - it’s important to us that this is handmade and with intention.
We encourage independent designers and artists to use this block printing craft as a medium for their design expression and to encourage consumers to invest in a product that has a sustainable story.
For those unfamiliar with block printing, can you describe what the design process is like?
Block printing starts with a wooden block, which is carved into intricate designs by our artisans using a wooden hammer and steel chisel. After the block is carved it’s soaked in peanut or mustard oil for 3-5 days in order for it to be waterproof. We then apply ink to the block, carefully align the block on the fabric, hammer it with a closed fist, and then remove the block from the fabric. The fabric is then treated and spread on the ground to dry before being washed to reveal the colour underneath.
This tradition has seen little variation since its inception. The artisans we work with are masters of their craft, whether it be block carving, washing, printing, dying, or using dabu paste. Their skills have been developed not over the years, but through generations. The outcome is not simply a scarf, napkin, bed sheet or blanket, but instead – a work of art.
Why have you decided to come to London to host a workshop?
To date we have hosted over 30 workshops in five countries. As our business grows and we continue to encourage and teach people about the benefits of slow fashion, we want to get the message outside of India. This workshop will give Londoners a taste of the process and a life-long skill for you to take home. That pair of white trousers sat at the bottom of your wardrobe can be transformed into something no one else will have, and it’s a fun, creative activity to do with friends.
What will people learn on the workshop?
I will start with a short talk around the community in Bagru with a film on how we set up this social enterprise in India. I will then do my ‘block print 101’ which will show you how to create a block, how to apply colour to the block and fabric, and insights into designing your own repeat pattern or if you’d prefer a more random approach. After a demonstration of the technique, you will have the opportunity to use any combination of the 100+ hand carved wooden blocks we are bringing from India. You will be provided with a tote bag to print on and can upcycle up to three items of your existing clothing or textiles with bold and exciting new prints. This workshop is all about expressing yourself, whilst reducing your impact on the environment, and upcycling your own unwanted clothes.
What’s your final message for people interested in block printing?
Block printing is a traditional craft passed down through generations. It’s great for beginners and those who want to create really technical pieces and is a great way to work with your hands. The main message is that this is an opportunity to upcycle your own clothing instead of purchasing a new piece from the high street.