Recycle Runway Blog

Beautiful India! Published: 01.13.2012 at 12:21 pm by Nancy Judd

In December I had the adventure of a lifetime traveling in India for three weeks! I was mesmerized by all the beautiful colors and patterns everywhere I looked– saris worn by women riding on the back of motorcycles, bright ornamentation on trucks carrying rubble, and tiny red bracelets and garlands of marigolds as offerings in roadside temples– the eye was always resting on something stunning!

This amazing trip was made possible by some international plane tickets that I received as partial payment for the Environmental Steward-ess garment that Delta Air Lines sponsored last year. It is a part of my current exhibition on display in the Atlanta Airport through May 2012.

While visiting this wonderful country, my partner, Nicole, and I were fortunate to visit a very special program in Mumbai called MarketPlace: Handwork of India. It is a fair trade, not-for-profit organization which creates lasting change in the lives of low-income women in India.  An impressive 480 artisans are organized into 14 independent co-operatives which produce women’s apparel and home decor. In addition, programs offer educational and enrichment opportunities designed to help the artisans overcome personal, cultural and financial obstacles.

We were warmly welcomed to a gathering of about 20 primary staff members with a cup of masala tea (chai), a rose, and red powder blessings placed on our foreheads (bindis). As we sat around a circle with the whirring of the fans keeping the room cool, I gave a brief description of the recycled fashions that I make from trash and the environmental education goals behind my work. Then each staff member described their role in the MarketPlace while the team leaders explained the focus of each of their co-operatives.  Many had beautiful samples and talked about their teams with great pride. Most of the work they do involves sewing and embroidery – clothing, purses, oven mitts and even computer bags. Like any successful garment business, MarketPlace has multiple designers (from around the world,) a quality control department, beautiful (and educational) catalogs, plus an excellent website and blog. I was impressed at how many of the staff had been with the organization for so long… some for over 25 years. MarketPlace is clearly more than an employer; it is a close-knit family that cares for each other!

Yogesh, pictured in the photo with me on the right, was our very gracious guide and translator for the afternoon. He gave us a special tour of several of the nearby workshops, many of which were located in one of the large city slums. We toured through some of the corridors and alleys behind the scenes off the major streets on the way to the various workshops. In one alley we saw a beautiful canopy of lanterns and flowers from the festival of lights celebrated in November.

At one of the workshops we met the manager’s wife who delighted in assisting us with picture taking and his daughter who wore a very clever smile and pranced cheerfully in her school uniform. Visiting the workshops and meeting the women that worked there was such a great honor and delight. The spaces themselves were very simple and some might be, to American standards, a bit crowded. But they are clearly very productive, and all the women were very good natured, laughing and talking. The close knit relationships were very clear and the banter, though we could not understand it, was delightful! Often someone would translate or ask us a question in English. One of the really neat things that MarketPlace provides is the capability of the employee to work at home since many of the women are mothers and wives who are also tending to a family.

MarketPlace is designing new products using “chindi”, scrap pieces of fabric. They asked us for design suggestions and we have been giving ideas as they come– hopefully they will be of some use. I’m sure, however, that their VERY creative group of artists and designers will have no shortage of fantastic ideas! On the right is a photo of a “patchwork fabric” they have created with scraps that can be made into any number of items.

Before we left, we watched some of the women practicing a play about domestic abuse. Even before it was interpreted for us, we were moved by the passion of the women. It was sad to learn about the role that in-laws (especially mother-in-laws) often play in domestic abuse. The issues of arranged marriages and dowries complicate the problem as well. This play is presented to the public for educational awareness and discussion of a topic that can still be taboo.

My favorite part of the day was captured in this photo. We spent a long time sitting and chatting with a group of  artisans in the afternoon. We asked each other questions about our work and personal lives. I was stealing up-close peaks at their beautiful saris and scarves, thick black hair and lovely gold jewelry. Though I felt quite plain in comparison, I caught several curious glances my way too. Our day with the women and men who work for the MarketPlace rivaled even the exquisite Taj Mahal for my favorite experience in India!

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19 responses to “Beautiful India!”

  1. Frank Wrenn says:

    This is wonderful! I am so happy that the Delta tickets could be used for such a wonderful experience. India is one of my favorite places– an amazing, diverse land with wonderful people.

    Frank Wrenn
    Delta Air Lines

  2. Lynn Hathaway says:

    Dear Nancy,

    It must have been fabric-licious! I am getting more and more into clothing – just signed up for the Folk ARt trip to Uzbekistan, because someone dropped out. The trip is in May. I learned about it from Pam Najdowsky, who is also going,she works with the Miao people and imports their jewelry and clothing. When I asked why she was going to Uzbekistan, she replied, “Textiles?”, then I learned more and it is the Silk Road, etc. I am a little scared but extremely excited. would love to see your slideshow when it is ready. Welcome home! Lynn

  3. Kim Davison says:

    What a wonderful experience! Thank you for sharing it with me.

  4. Tara says:

    I’ve admired the work the Marketplace folks do for years now — both the actual fabric items they produce and the amazing social differences they’re making. How wonderful that you were able to visit, see what they’re doing, and contribute to the overall process! Thank you for this post … it was wonderful to read.

  5. Barbara says:

    What an experience! Thank you for sharing this adventure, Nancy!

  6. Joan says:

    This looks like it was an amazing and creative-forming experience!! I can only imagine what that Marketplace looked like!!! So glad you had a wonderful trip!

  7. Joan says:

    Sounds like an amazing experience!! So glad you got to go!

  8. Cathy TF says:

    Wow — they do have such beautiful fabrics and colors. What a great trip. Thanks for sharing the adventure.

  9. Bette says:

    Fabulous experience! Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to see how the colors, textures, beauty, personalities and overall cultural experiences transition into your new work. Have fun!

  10. Thank you Nancy! And thanks to the strong determined women of Mumbai!

  11. Sarah Mitchell says:

    This is a wonderful account of what must have been just the hem of your trip to India. It will be incredible to see how this in turn inspires your works of art and support of women.

  12. Joanie Spumon says:

    Nancy – Sharing this with all of us is truly a gift. Your trip to India sounds wonderfully fulfilling. I also want to say how much I enjoyed seeing your exhibit in the International Terminal in the Atlanta Airport. I mentioned how captivating it was to everyone who’d listen. Many of the flight attendants that I spoke with knew the exhibit and commented that it was the best in the airport….ever!

  13. What an incredible experience Nancy. Thanks for sharing this glimpse of Mumbai and the people of the MarketPlace.

  14. What a great adventure. Where do their crafts get sold? are they coming to the US? The first think I thought about then I saw the different pieces of fabric was that don’t they sell bundles like that in stores like Michael and other craft stores..they could just bundle them in color ways and put a ribbon on them and sell them for quilters to use.

    But that depends where their work is going, and clearly that is not as creative as creating the quilts themselves. I”m sure you have been inspired greatly by your travels can’t wait to see what you do next.

  15. The fabrics, colors and clothes are gorgeious as are the beautiful people!. By any chance do you have a photo of the little decorated train that you told me about?

    Are there outlets for their work here in the US?

  16. Pam Mathews says:

    Nancy–Thank you for your generosity in sharing about your trip!! Very uplifting to read of this market!

  17. harmony says:

    Keep up the wonderful and important work! I am grateful for you and all women around the globe who are dedicated to art and home (both personal and collective).

  18. Yogesh Karnik says:

    Dear Nancy,

    This is awesome. I am very grateful to read your blogs. thanks for sharing this.


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