While India is known to be the home of many traditional arts and crafts, there are so many art forms that are on the verge of extinction. One such dying art is traditional Chhipa hand block printing. ‘ASHA’ (Aid & Survival of Handicraft Artisans), an initiative run by Aarti Rusia in Chhindwara District of Madhya Pradesh is working towards reviving thus Central India’s dying art with help of many local and rural tribal women of Chhindwara.
ASHA is dedicated to establish a local brand with vast identity. It incorporates each and every material ranging from the piece of cloth to the finished apparel exclusively from Chhindwara. The block prints that ASHA uses also depict centuries old local traditional Gond artwork.
ASHA not only helps them earn their livelihood but also provides them skill training which will help them for rest of their lives. ASHA turns their traditional hand block printed works into new and modern text under the label ‘COTTON FABS’ at reasonable prices to help reach the art to its audience. In this way ASHA is also serving a social cause of empowering women.
Apeksha News Network had an exclusive conversation with ace entrepreneur Aarti Rusia, who along with the traditional weavers and artisans always try to work with the nearby enthusiastic young designers and unemployed rural women. Check out the excerpts of this interesting talk!
Tell us something about your life before ASHA.
I was a housewife after marriage, just like women from ordinary Indian families. I am fortunate that in this era of nuclear family, our family is still a joint family, where all the happiness, sorrow and suffering are shared. For a long time, there was a desire in my mind to do something of my own, which would also benefit society. It is generally said that behind every successful man, there is a woman. However, in my case, the scenario is different as my husband is the one behind this success of mine, including the support and encouragement of my whole family. I believe that my work is still in the beginning phase and much more has to be done.
What does your role at ASHA and Cotton Fabs include?
Through our organization ASHA i.e. Aid & Survival of Handicraft Artisans, we are working towards reviving the art of ancestral and traditional Chhipa hand block printing, which has become extinct from our region. We do this with the support of local rural and tribal women and traditional weavers. I am the founder of ASHA and all the artistic products by ASHA artisans reach art lovers with the brand name COTTON FABS.
What is the USP of Cotton Fabs?
“Hum ASHA me sapno ke dhaage bunte hain.” (At ASHA, we weave the threads of dreams) From the beginning, we have been of the opinion that nothing could be the USP than the satisfaction of our customers. In order to do something different and new for our art lovers and customers, we offer local tattoo art of our Gondwana region, blended together that captivates our customers.
At ASHA, local rural and tribal women as well as artisan print blocks of tattoos of Gondwana region on the hand-woven fabrics by local traditional weavers who are associated with us. In this traditional art, artisans use wooden mold to engrave designs on cloth. ‘ASHA’ converts this art into other useful apart from fabrics. The aim is that the best quality products should reach to the consumers at affordable prices. Right from the raw materials to finished goods, everything is regional, the 'BRAND CHHINDWARA’!
How has been the journey so far for you as an Entrepreneur?
The initial phase was difficult, like any start-up faces. However, during the period of struggle, we continued walking ahead but slowly, one step at a time. The pace of work is increasing now, and new people are constantly joining us. I believe that difficult experiences can teach a lot. We should continue doing our work with the positive thinking.
With so much competition in lifestyle segment, how do you manage to stay at par and attract customers?
We believe that people who use our products are not our customers, but art lovers and journey partners of ASHA. Keeping up with the latest trends and adding something new to work is the key. We also custom print and stitch them according to the requirements of each individual.
With the boom in digitalization, people have shifted to online purchasing. Do you think that malls and retail shops still have a scope of business in next 5 years?
It is true that digitalization has brought a lot of changes in the market. The online market has made a huge difference in retail trade. Nevertheless, we believe that traditional markets will always be there. That feeling of personally touching the fabric and then buying it has its own charm!
Cotton Fabs is an ethnic brand. There are so many art forms like certain block prints, etc. that are gradually dying. There is scarcity of artists who can create them. What steps have you taken at ASHA to help such artisans and their art in terms of lifestyle products?
With ASHA, we aim to revive our ancestral ‘Chhipa’ block printing and saving the tattoo art of Gondwana. We provide block-printing training to rural and tribal women and even help them to get employment. Many of them work with us at our studio after getting trained.
Moreover, we have connected the weavers’ together under one roof. We are also trying to integrate other local traditional arts and artists, and bringing them into the mainstream.
Government of India is promoting art and culture as well as artisans. How far have they been successful? Any suggestions to the government on same?
It is true that, the government has implemented various schemes for art and culture as well as craftsmen, however these schemes will be meaningful only if their implementation is done in a given time frame. Moreover, I strongly believe that more attention must be given to the marketing strategy of the products.
What is the biggest struggle of a woman entrepreneur today in India?
Women have to struggle more in the field to become an entrepreneur. Many do not get support from family or society. This mindset that taking care of the child is a solely mother's responsibility needs to be changed. It is motivating to see that they manage to stay determined and continuing moving forward, while trying to maintain balance between the family and their work. Though the mentality of the society is changing slowly and steadily, I assume it will take many more years to witness the change we desire. I feel the government has to take more initiatives for the women empowerment and their growth.
Based on your own experience, what advice would you give to women considering pursuing a career as an entrepreneur?
In a country like India, where the society is yet to accept working woman or treating her equally, pursuing a career as an entrepreneur will not be easy. Along with the usually struggles faced by any entrepreneur, you as a woman will have to face bit more. But, no matter what, never let your dreams die. Find a way to make them true. As they say, where there is a will, there is a way and if there is no way, make one!
What is your favorite thing about being a woman?
I am proud to be a woman and this world cannot be imagined without us!
Is (gender) equality an important issue for you? If yes, why? If no, why?
Today, women are no less indispensable to society than men, and giving them tough competition. Gender equality is an important issue and a big concern for the society currently. The mindset has not changed in many areas and women still need to fight more to prove their potential.
International Women’s Day was first marked in 1911 – over 100 years ago. Why do you think the day is still relevant?
We have seen the change in the thinking of society over a period of time, but until every woman is not treated equally, this day is relevant. Once the fight of equality is over and all are treated similar, why will we then need a special women’s day?
‘ASHA’ is constantly trying for the promotion and protection of these unemployed rural women by providing them employment. Apeksha News Network congratulates Aarti Rusia for her unique contribution towards reviving the art of ancestral and traditional ‘Chhipa’ hand block printing in an unimaginable manner as well as empowering the rural and tribal women, and wishes her good luck for her future endeavours!