ShyamJi Bhai

Several of REVIVAL Style’s organic hand woven cotton fabrics, a small number of our organic cotton scarves and all of our pure sheep wool scarves were created by ShyamJi Bhai’s family and network of artisans. ShyamJi Bhai is from the village of Bhujodi and specializes in kala cotton weaving (organic cotton native to the Kachchh region). Him and his five brothers – Hamir Bhai, RamJi Bhai, Arjun Bhai, Dinesh Bhai and Rajesh Bhai – work together to run the family weaving operation, each playing a unique and specific role. Their father is an amazing, award-winning weaver who aside from his competence in weaving has a big heart and has helped establish others in the community in this craft. Through his help, several low-income families were able to progress in weaving and become self-sufficient. ShyamJi Bhai and his brothers have learned much from their father – both weaving and the importance of community – and this is evident in how the brothers work today. ShyamJi Bhai’s family provides weaving work to 40 weavers, 30 in Bhujodi and 10 in surrounding villages. The family’s network of artisans, most of whom are relatives, has grown to a respectable level. When their father started, it was just him and two other weavers.

ShyamJi Bhai and his brothers are involved at every stage of the weaving process from design, weaving, dyeing, finishing and quality control. Each of them learned to weave from their father and they use this knowledge to manage, teach and collaborate with artisans in their network. They have grown the weaving network in their community, developing skills and enabling others to benefit from a craft-based livelihood. ShyamJi Bhai describes how they meet artisans where they are in terms of their craft skill and availability to take on new craftwork. They know all of the artisans who work with their family very well and interact with them daily, allowing them to understand which artisan is best suited for which project coming down the pipeline.

There are 100 Rabari tribal families that live in Bhujodi. ShyamJi Bhai and his family give embroidery work to Rabari women who embroider shawls and scarves. One great example of a Rabari Bhen (sister) is an older lady who has worked with the family since their father’s prime weaving days and although she’s now quite old, she is very passionate about Rabari embroidery so the brothers give her and other elder Rabari artisans work that suits their age and competence. This allows these women to have craft work and more important, gives them dignity in knowing “they still got it” as they continue pursuing their passion. Through their community-minded operations, ShyamJi Bhai and his family are helping build artisans – young and old by strengthening their design, craft production and market skills and their self-confidence as a master of their craft. They are investing in capacity building and providing consistent work for impoverished artisans and their families.

Weaving is both an art and a business. It’s about the imagination, creativity, passion and identity of the weaver artisan but also about understanding what the market needs and wants and delivering a balance of both. According to ShyamJi Bhai, he enjoys award-related projects because he gets to let loose, let his imagination run, innovate and get creative without any pressure. Through this, he experiences more of the artistic component of weaving. ShyamJi Bhai explains that design for weavers is not done in the traditional design sense with sketch pads and detailed drawings but instead informally, through intuition. With client-related weaving work, he plays the role of project manager and experiences more of the business side of weaving. He tells Neetu, with a smile, that he does “Enjoy being the bridge between the weaving artisans in their community and clients including designers from around the globe but that as production in weaving grows, there is a higher chance for error and loss of quality, which can be stressful.” How he mitigates this is by refusing to work with clients who require mass quantities. To maintain the love, enjoyment and quality of weaving, there is only a certain level of quantity that his family and their network of artisans are willing to work with. “We do not do this work solely for the money. Weaving is embedded in our hearts.”

When asked if their children will take the family weaving operations forward, both ShyamJi Bhai and his younger brother Dinesh Bhai believe, without hesitation, that they will. They say weaving is in the blood and whether the children go on to study and pursue other career fields, this will always be inside them and at some point, they’ll realize its importance to their identity and its potential in the world. When asked how a child learns weaving and how this craft skill is passed on from one generation to the next, ShyamJi Bhai answers: “When a child comes home from school and sits next to his father who is at the hand loom, they’ll chat and all of the tools involved in weaving will become the child’s toys and as he and his father chat every day, he’ll watch, learn and that latent knowledge in him will become activated. It’s an unconscious, informal process. The child is surrounded by it. It is part of his world from the beginning.”

Positive Social Impact

REVIVAL Style is able to help small-scale artisans connected to ShyamJi’s family grow their income and design skills through weaving projects. One such artisan is Jagdish Kanji. He is ShyamJi Bhai’s relative and the artisan who hand wove several of REVIVAL Style’s organic cotton fabrics. He is 21 years old, from the village of Avadhnagar and has been weaving for the past four years. He weaves on the handloom for 6 hours on average every day. His income from weaving allows him to support his family’s livelihood and allows him to develop his weaving skills so he can take on more work. In addition to weavers, REVIVAL Style’s work with ShyamJi Bhai’s extended family provides work for women who prepare the handloom for weaving, do finishing work on scarves (i.e. creating tassels) or do embroidery. Thus, by partnering with ShyamJi Bhai and his extended family network of artisans, we are able to extend our reach and help more artisans than we could otherwise connect with alone.