Craft, crochet and social change come together at Samoolam

With a new festive collection and projects with Fabindia and Good Earth, Samoolam is now looking to go international

December 22, 2017 03:41 pm | Updated 03:41 pm IST

Usha Prajapati often wakes up in the middle of the night to scribble in her diary. At Samoolam (Collective Roots), the NGO founded by her — to give creative and monitory support to over 200 underprivileged women — these scribbles become part of designs that find expression in crocheted jewellery and home décor. Like the new Christmas collection featuring red-and-blue silk charms, bunting, wreaths and dream catchers.

The textile designer from the National Institute of Design began working with just 20 women in 2009, helping her mother teach them crochet at her father’s garage at Gaya, in an attempt to alleviate the poverty, low literacy rate, caste discrimination, and lack of respect for women prevalent in the town. In less than 10 years — investing in easily available resources, crochet skills and human endeavour — the women’s individual earnings have risen by 300%. “Design is a very powerful tool for social change, if we use it to solve the challenges. That is what I did; I just used my best resources in the best creative way, identifying the community need, my strength and market demand,” says Prajapati, sharing that Samoolam’s success has ensured her team can now take care of their family’s health, children’s education and their happiness. “I am still learning so many things every day,” she adds.

Colour me pretty

Bright colours and forms inspired by nature — “leaves, smells, twigs, flowers, birds chirping” — appeal to her and her creative team. Morning walks help her reflect, and devise systems and strategies that become ideas, which they sit together and discuss, and share on WhatsApp with the other women, before finalising a new range. Handmade techniques of weaving, printing, block printing and ceramic bead making are also combined with crochet to create their unique range of products that number more than 400 designs.

Samoolam’s creations are fun and quirky, because, as Prajapati believes, real happiness is in the little joys. So beautiful forms, good craftsmanship, and affordable objects in bright colours are their keystone. The NGO also works with silk weavers and sources stoles from Bhagalpur, to which they attach crochet flowers and beads for a personal touch.

Growth spurt

A self-confessed workaholic, the 36-year-old — part of international consortiums like NEST, Ten Thousand Villages and Aid to Artisans — is currently busy tackling multiple challenges. She is studying the international market, especially Europe, trying to learn how to cater to their clean, minimalist designs, which require a different level of sensitivity, while making plans to participate in an international fair.

With a new launch every two months, and customised collections for FabIndia and Good Earth, her other big challenge is redesigning the Samoolam website, creating new catalogues, and preparing the team for large-scale orders. While her design education has prepared her for research and creation, she admits it has not equipped her for digital technology, demonetisation or GST. But she takes everything in her stride, insisting, “Design is not about embellishment, it is about finding a solution.”

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