ARTISAN HANDS.

Words by our Product Manager, Sarah Ackroyd
Images by Samantha Chalker

It takes 12 months from when we design a dress to when it lands in our customer’s hands… and during that time it is touched, in some way, by every one of our team, every step of the way.

I have been travelling to visit our suppliers for over 3 years, ever since I began working with Spell. It’s been a journey that has taken me to places I may have never been – from the bright lights of Shanghai to the Pink city of Jaipur and the beautiful creative streets of Bali. I’ve also made new friends in all these different corners of the globe, people who I would have never have had the chance to meet, and for this I am so grateful.

The Spell brand was built off Lizzy and Spelly’s love of hand crafted treasures, and we wanted to honor that legacy by continuing to seek out ethically produced, hand-crafted pieces to compliment our collections. In February this year we visited some of the beautiful Indian Artisan communities who created some of our latest pieces.

The first stop was to a small factory run by husband and wife team Himanshu and Vandana. The duo presides over this family-run factory like proud parents, and as soon as we arrive we are once again awestruck by the talents of the beading team. The sequins are attached by hand so effortlessly, looping the thread blindly from under the garment, and the craftsmen and women chuckle and grin at us as our mouths open wide in amazement.

Over the past 12 months as we’ve continued to seek out socially responsible and ethical artisan groups we partnered with SETU, an organization in India (guaranteed fair trade by the World Fair Trade Organization) that works to empower under-privileged or marginalized artisan communities by providing them with sustainable growth opportunities through fair trade practices.

On the second day of our trip we travelled on a 10 hour round trip to visit one of these artisan groups in a small village in Northern India. This artisan group is crafting the brass toe and heel caps that adorn our soon to be released Sugar Skull boots. The traditional metal molding techniques that this group uses have been passed down generation to generation. The small workshop is based within a family home with an open central courtyard and we could see beauty and humbleness in such a small family oriented operation. As we were greeted by smiling faces and taken through each individual process, we felt grateful that our footwear factory (a much larger operation, though also ethically approved, two times over by both SAI and SEDEX) had been so open to supporting us with this artisan collaboration. We know that the magic of pairing these bespoke toecaps with our Sugar Skull boots will be well worth our efforts!

Later in the week we visited a number of the artisan groups who worked on our limited edition, organic cotton, block printed tote bags, an artisan collaboration again supported by SETU. Who would have thought such a simple thing like a calico tote bag could pass through the hands of so many individual groups, but such are the many intricate processes of handmade items. Each and every person we visited was so passionate about their work, from the block carvers, the block printers, the sewers, the creators of the fabric tags attached to the bags which go through the hands of 3 further artisan groups and finally to the pressers. I was overwhelmed to see how many people relied on, and were being empowered by the work created by these collaborations. It gave us a deeper appreciation for the passionate work that goes into something so beautifully simple – Kaitlin and I will treasure our totes when they are released in May.

Finally, we made the journey back to a village I visited on my last trip to India in October, a women’s group who were being taught to read and write with the help of the valuable work of SETU. As I walked through the fields to the tiny farmhouse, I was overcome again by the peacefulness, the beauty and tranquility of this incredible place.

As we rounded the corner of the house to my absolute amazement, there were now a number of beautiful sewing machines set up in the courtyard that the organisation had helped provide to enable the women’s group to learn to sew.  Their initially shy faces quickly turned into huge grins as the women realized we had met before – and they hurried to the machines to show us the sewing skills they had learned since we last met. What was meant to be quick visit, nearly turned into an overnight visit as we went into the fields to pick our veggies for lunch, then cooked with women (who found it hilarious that we didn’t know how to make chapatis – a must learn! A DIY blog coming soon perhaps?!) and drank buttermilk straight from the buffalo. On my return I relayed this story to Lizzy and Spelly, and everyone was so inspired that we brainstormed a fun little collaboration just so that we could work with these women. We look forward to sharing that project with you soon!

We are super proud to be working with these amazing groups in India to create beautiful things, and in the process supporting communities of artisans who’s craft needs to be preserved and treasured for generations to come.

Read more about our factories and our team around the world on our ethics and sustainability page: PEOPLE + PLANET HERE.