The Happy Hands Project
Posted on October 26 2018
The Happy Hands Project is a collaboration between Praveen Chauhan, Matr based in Bodhgaya, Bihar and Kathy Williams, Because of Nature based in Victoria, Australia.
Praveen and Kathy met via Instagram nearly 4 years ago when Kathy was sourcing a supplier of Khadi. She had had several negative experiences yet her passion for Khadi and its cultural significance inspired her to keep searching. It was through this search she came across Praveen and his Instagram account that regularly posted powerful images of true artisan life in the rural villages of Bihar and his support of fair wages for the artisans and the pursuit of women’s empowerment within the textile community. Praveen was happy to supply Khadi and Kathy’s first order of Bihar Khadi was a changing point in her textile journey.
Bihar Khadi has an honesty that is hard to find words to describe. Praveen says that due to the rural positioning of Bihar a lot of the spinners and weavers have not taken the practice of spicing their yarn with inferior fibre or compromising the structure of their weave. Having sourced Khadi from various regions the handle of Bihar Khadi is so incredibly raw and honest, even Kathy’s customers have become familiar with the unique qualities of Bihar Khadi.
In August 2017 Praveen was invited to present at Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai and invited Kathy to present her clothes in his show. Through this experience together they learnt the value and appreciation for their vision and production of sustainable slow fashion garments.
At this event the seed for The Happy Hands Project was planted.
May 2018 Kathy travelled to Gaya, Bihar to run an intensive 10 day natural dye workshop with the ladies of Bodhgaya and Gaya. This workshop was the very first step to Kathy and Praveen realising their dream of establishing sustainable employment and empowerment for the women of both the Bodhgaya and Gaya community.
The workshop was a resounding success and 30 women all embraced the opportunity to learn a skill pertaining to their culture and textile history.
Not only has the fast fashion and textile industry had a devasting effect on India’s environment it has also had a huge negative impact on the financial infrastructure and employment opportunities within the rural villages. The generational chain of teaching ancient crafts and traditional skills from one generation to the other has also been broken. Skilled artisans travelled from villages to the cities thinking they would prosper yet this was not to be the normal destiny of many skilled artisans. The skills and talents of men, women and the lives of children were exploited for others financial gain. The textile industry became an industry of mass production, fuelled by chemicals and machinery as buyers demands grew rapidly. Through this production practise many ancient artisan skills were neglected, skills and artisanal practise that provided rural village communities with sustainable employment opportunities. The celebrated the world renowned skills of Indian artisans were exploited and many international buyers treated them with disrespect and unfair wages for the level of their craftsmanship and skill. People in the villages no longer felt pride in learning such skills as they had seen so much disrespect and exploitation of the artisans.
Praveen has dedicated the last 6 years supporting and insuring the fair and just treatment of India’s rural artisans, sustainable employment and empowerment opportunities for the women of Bodhgaya and Gaya.
Kathy has spent a life time gathering an endless array of textile skills including extended focus on sericulture, natural dyeing and natural fibre.
Kathy and Praveen create a unique combination of skills and experience that work brilliantly together to support a project such as The Happy Hand Project. They have a shared vision fuelled by passion and determination to support the empowerment of the women of Bodhgaya and Gaya and to establish a Khadi weaving unit built around entirely sustainable practise with a zero waste policy producing 100% natural products.
During our first workshop we had such a good positive time with the ladies, one day being particularly exciting. It was the first day we introduced colour to the workshop after many days of cloth preparation and mordanting lessons. We bundle dyed khadi with marigolds, rose petals, mango leaves, hibiscus, barks and other various flowers the ladies found on their way to class, a day spent in a sea of flowers. When we unwrapped the bundled flowers the ladies were so happy and hands were busy with flowers and khadi and Praveen then realised he wanted to call our project “The Happy Hand Project”.
Throughout our workshop there was an energy of hope and possibility, we realised we could make something extraordinary for these beautiful women who gave us strength and inspiration to continue with our vision.
Marigolds are such an integral feature of Indian life, culture and celebration. Their golden colour that range from the brightest of yellow through to the vibrant oranges bring joy and happiness as if the sun shines upon us.
Bodhgaya is famous for its Mahabodhi Temple, the world Unesco site where Lord Buddha was said to have found enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. A very sacred site for Buddhists around the world who pilgrimage to Mahabodhi Temple to visit the Bodhi tree and sit quietly in meditation on this sacred site.
The Buddhists bring offerings of Marigold to the temple as well as the temple being decorated with the sacred flower. The marigolds are changed several times a week and become a waste product. So sacred have these flowers been that Praveen realised we could make good use of this waste as well as appreciating the sacred energy within the marigold that have graced this significant sacred temple as blessings.
September 2018 an MOU was signed in Bodhgaya creating a unique and historical collaboration between The Mahabodhi Temple (BMTC) and The Happy Hands Project.
The collaboration is for Happy Hands to gather the Marigolds used as temple offerings and temple decoration to be processed into natural dyes.
The ladies collect the flowers when they are taken down and transport them to The Happy Hands unit. Once there the flower petals are plucked and layed out to dry in the sun, when dry they are ground into a powder for safe functional storage ready for the dye vats.
This is Kanchen and Maya preparing Marigolds for drying.
The Happy Hands Project is in the early stages of developing an entire weaving unit 5kms from Mahabodhi Temple. The Project has been donated a unique piece of land that is being prepared for development right now.
Within this unit there will be separate buildings for spinners, weavers and a natural dyeing house and a kitchen facility to provide healthy midday meals for all our artisans. We are establishing a community for opportunity and a model for sustainable employment for the women of Bihar, an region of great poverty within India, with little or no sustainable employment opportunities.
Initially we can provide employment for 50 women and our aim is to grow, eventually employing up to 250 women.
Traditionally the women have been hesitant to step outside the home due to lack of support, infrastructure and opportunity. The Happy Hands Project wants to provide a safe sustainable environment for these women to develop their skills and independence.
We have been working with a group of 30 women since May 2018 and they have embraced the opportunity of learning the tradition and process of natural dyeing.
Kathy has identified 4 of the initial group as progressive, dedicated and intelligent women who have astounded her with their initiative and passion for this opportunity. She has just spent 3 weeks in Bodhgaya providing a more intense session of training in natural dye, developing skill for these women to supervise and support with training the rest of the group, a simple role that has given the women encouragement and a sense of pride.
The timing for developing this unit is in balance with the realisation internationally of the destruction the textile industry has on our delicate environment. Our unit is to be a statement of sustainability, zero waste, high quality artisanal work and circular textile practice. The products we intend to develop will be 100% compostable.
A second development of our unit site will be accommodation for designers and interested individuals to come and stay onsite for education into true sustainable development and practise by traditional artisans. Designers can spend time with the spinners, weavers and dyers and come to comprehend the level of skill involved in making Khadi and handloomed cloth, establish a level of appreciation and respect for the skill and dedication by the artisans and open a dialogue for technique, practicalities and future collaboration. A platform to develop knowledge and understanding that can be incorporated into designers work and practice.
This is The Happy Hands Project and we are so excited for the future of our women and the development of this magical project. We would love you all to follow our story and encourage dialogue with us regarding any questions you may have.
Presently we are working on establishing a Crowd funding project to help with the financial infrastructure of our unit. There will be many beautiful incentives on offer for the crowd funding so please keep an eye on our instagram, Kathy's or Praveen's for updates.
We will try to keep these blogs up to date now as so many wonderful things are happening so quickly, we want you all to be a part of our journey. We are creating a community of happiness and goodwill.
@happyhandsproject @becauseofnature @chauhan.praveen