All of the embroideries for REVIVAL Style’s 2013 and 2014 collections were hand done by Laxmi Bhen and her family who belong to the Ahir tribal community in Kachchh. Ahir embroidery is known for its intricacy, neat and fine finishing and outline (that surrounds the outer edges of an embroidered piece).
Laxmi Bhen learned how to embroider from watching her mother, Parma Bhen, a skilled Ahir embroidery artisan. Laxmi Bhen has five daughters: Radha Bhen, Geeta Bhen, Meera Bhen, Shanthi Bhen and Krishna Bhen. Just as she learned to embroider from her mother, Laxmi Bhen’s daughters learned by watching her. They work together to fulfill embroidery orders. Laxmi Bhen’s family has kept a strong tie to their embroidery roots while allowing for new designs and patterns to be introduced. They will either retain traditional embroidery designs in their entirety or update them slightly. In other cases, they will develop new contemporary designs altogether. This unique balance allows for cultural preservation alongside innovation and skill development. While designs may have changed, the embroidery technique is still the same. It is still Ahir embroidery at the core and in the process. Shanthi Bhen says what her and her sisters love most about Ahir embroidery is that it “keeps their heritage alive and strong and allows them to not lose touch with it even through newer generations”. “When our Grandmother and Mother did embroidery it was always just them, working by themselves in the home. Now we have a larger group, me, my sisters and my Aunts and cousins. We all work together to complete embroidery orders.” Shanthi Bhen tells Neetu her family’s dream is to carry their craft forward and expand their reach so they can keep this going and uphold Ahir embroidery for generations to come.
When Neetu first met Laxmi Bhen, she was warmly greeted inside her small but very clean and cute home. As Neetu explained her interest in learning more about Ahir embroidery, Laxmi Bhen and her daughters explained their history and showed Neetu awe-inspiring embroidery pieces done by their family that date back more than 60 years. There is something extremely special about older embroidery work. The threads, care, quality and love with which embroidery was done back then cannot be replicated today. Laxmi Bhen explained to Neetu how important the quality of the thread is to creating the right look and how her family will only work with the finest silk threads because for them the quality of their embroideries is their pride and honour. This is evident to Neetu throughout her experience in working with Laxmi Bhen’s family as they are extremely critical and particular about their work and they will deny samples going forward that they do not feel represent their best work. Neetu is inspired by the strength, love and sense of community she sees with this group of talented women. Beyond embroidery, Neetu had many conversations with Laxmi Bhen and her daughters about life in rural India, the struggles women face and how they all come together to support one another.
Positive Social Impact
For an uneducated women in rural India, with next to no job prospects, working from home for 4-6 hours per day and earning $5/day is a significant help for her family. When asked how much a family in their village needs to survive, Shanthi Bhen replies “there is no fixed amount one needs. That’s not how it works here. We were quite poor growing up and we made it work on very little. People here adjust to whatever income they have.” Through their embroidery work with REVIVAL Style, Laxmi Bhen’s family and other Ahir embroidery artisans in their village have earned at least $5 per day for 4-6 hours of embroidery work. In local terms, this is a healthy wage from which food, clothing, healthcare and education related costs can be covered.
For REVIVAL Style’s holiday 2014 dress collection, a portion of the embroidery work was done by other Ahir embroidery artisans in Laxmi Bhen’s village. This was purposely done to provide some supplemental income to women who are talented but struggling financially in their homes. The beauty of this whole operation is that Laxmi Bhen and her daughters, through their tight-knit relationships in the community, are aware of the needs of different families and were able to proactively share embroidery work with other women who they knew were skilled embroiders that would benefit from the income. Laxmi Bhen and her daughters offered simple tutorials on the design to these women. This not only allowed more women artisans to benefit from REVIVAL Style’s craft production through skills development and income but it also allowed us to complete work within a reasonable time so the dresses were ready for our customers to wear. Examples such as this align our social impact and business needs, which is at the heart of REVIVAL Style’s mission.