Zola's Gina Joseph on how the slowdown has affected folk artisans and where sustainability stands now
Gina Joseph’s conscious jewellery label has come a long way in the last six years. One of the label's main priorities is to showcase homegrown artistic expression, as Joseph works with artisans from various parts of the country. In fact, her newest Dhokra line-up features some stunning work by traditional metal smiths from West Bengal. Joseph has also closely observed how the global slowdown has impacted the artisan communities across India, and talks about where sustainability stands in terms of the big picture:
Tell us about your newest Dhokra collection...
The Lost Wax Collectible has been made using the lost-wax casting technique, which is one of the earliest known methods of metal casting. Dhokra/Bell metal is an alloy of nickel, brass and zinc that lends an antique appeal to casting.
The Dhokra Damar are the traditional metal smiths of West Bengal and the tribe extends to Jharkhand and Odisha as well. We work with over 200 artisans in Odisha and our Lost Wax Collectible has a collection of rings, earrings, necklaces, foot and hand accessories and waist belts.
Tell us a little about your network of artisans across the country
Zola India as a brand allows rural and folk artisans to express themselves through wearable art and is a voice that narrates their stories to the world, thereby allowing them to realize sustained economic empowerment. We have worked with Dhokra and Pattachitra from Odisha, Toda embroidery from Tamilnadu, Wall Mural art and Aranmula mirror from Kerala, Leather puppetry and Lac Turnery from Andhra Pradesh, Bidri from Karnataka and Bead Embroidery from Gujarat.
Zola India works on a social entrepreneurship model and when I conduct workshops, work on new collections, I make sure that the style of art is not tampered with; only the form changes, and they become pretty jewellery with a story.
Has the lockdown affected your business in any way?
Yes, in a big way. Apart from the stores we retail at across India and few internationally being shut, some sales cannot be shipped either. It’s a really big hit for our artisan community, they are finding it really tough to make ends meet and sustain their basic livelihoods. The artisan is not able to sell his work nor make new stock as the sales and shipping channels have been closed for over two months.
We are trying to find a way to solve this by creating an online presence for our artisans so that they can sell their work on our platform. We also hope the customer makes a conscious effort to buy handmade and artisanal products to support the vibrant craft community.
Tell us a little about how Zola approaches sustainability
Zola has always strived to sustain the livelihoods for fourth and fifth generation artisans by giving their talent new form and expression. Most craftsmen and rural artisans in India have to sell their products through craft markets or village middlemen for a very low cost as they have to keep their households going.
There are usually not many takers of the craft directly from the artisan, so while there is a lot of hard work and time that goes into creating each piece there is very less return on investment. Right now Zola works with about 20 Pattachitra and 100 Dhokra (bronze casting technique) artisans in Odisha and they are directly paid for their work, as an artist and creator and there is no involvement of middlemen here.
You can shop the entire line-up at www.zolaindia.com