Kaligarh’s creation to dignified employment
Visit Nepal and you will be struck by the majestic views of its mountains, valleys, and its rich artistic heritage, but at the same time, you will be overwhelmed by the vast socio-economic problems including domestic unemployment and labor migration to Malaysia and the Gulf where hundreds of young Nepalis die from working in dangerous conditions. It’s these issues that spurred launching Kaligarh according to founder and creative director Jyoti Upadhyay.
Kaligarh will be attending NY NOW’s Artisan Resource from February 5-8 at New York City’s Jacob Javits Center. HAND/EYE Magazine asked him a few question about his mission in creating jobs, the design process, his new collection, and the challenge Kaligargh has encountered along the way. .
HAND/EYE: Tell me the reason behind creating Kaligarh?
Jyoti Upadhyay: Creating viable, dignified employment is essential for Nepal, and I feel it is possible to do this while honoring and preserving our heritage of craftsmanship. These are still early days, but it is this belief that motivates us to keep moving forward.
We started with the Puraniya Collection, which is inspired by traditional designs from across Nepal’s diverse cultures. These pieces have been adapted, sometimes completely reinterpreted. One of the reasons people are no longer wearing traditional jewelry is because pieces are often heavy and unwieldy. We adapted them to make them comfortable to wear and to put on and take off (some traditional pieces, once worn, were never taken off), and in many cases pared back the designs to their simplest form. We were delighted by the reaction in Nepal, particularly among women under 40, who had maybe admired the traditional jewelry of their mothers and grandmothers, but had been resigned to the fact that they could never wear these designs.
H/E: How many artisans who work for you? What training and any other special programs do you provide for them?
JU: At the moment we work with 11 artisans from two communities in the Kathmandu Valley, many of whom work independently. This month we have been setting up our own workshop, which will house a central team of artisans, though we will continue to provide work and support to independent artisans. We will be using this central space for apprenticeships, specialized training and skill-sharing between artisans/communities, as well as to present a vision of modern craftsmanship to inspire young people to pursue silversmithing and metalwork.
We are now exploring training individuals from a third community, who have been historically marginalized. They are situated in a remote area in northern Nepal, and are in great need of this work. This training will take place at our central workshop and will be conducted by our in-house team.
H/E: Tell us about the design process at Kaligarh?
JU: The ideas for all three contemporary collections have come while at the workshop, working on traditional pieces for the Puraniya Collection. They are inspired by the process, the techniques – that brief, unsuspecting moment when something is sitting on the workshop table between steps. I find a lot of beauty in those moments. For example, the newest collection is inspired by the shape into which the silver is hammered, before it goes to the repoussé artisan to do the embellishment. I often start with rings and cuffs, then develop the other pieces from there.
H/E: All companies have triumphs, but hurdles. Can you share some of those with us?
JU: Participating at the International Folk Ark Market (IFAM) in July 2016 was a wonderful experience, and came at just the right time for us. After facing two major challenges the previous year – the earthquake and a 6-month long economic blockade – we worked hard to scale up our production for IFAM. Each of the artisans benefitted from this. During this time, we were able to offer interest-free loans to two artisans to rebuild/repair their homes, which they were able to repay quickly due to a high volume of work before the event.
The lessons from the blockade were very valuable: always keep inventory and supplies in stock, so that you can better insulate yourself from events beyond your control. It’s hard to think of an event as destructive as the earthquake as a positive thing, but those difficult weeks in the immediate aftermath certainly deepened the bond between myself and the artisans. I am grateful that through customers and friends of Kaligarh, we were able to support the artisans and their families to get back on their feet.
H/E: What will you be showing at Artisan Resource this year?
JU: This will be our third show as part of the Market Incubator Program. We’re excited to be showing a new contemporary collection, in addition to our ongoing collections: Puraniya, Aaran and Thoka. These are a mix of traditional and more contemporary designs.