Chamar Studio gives rubber tyres a second life

Bombay Black — the debut collection of Chamar Studio’s minimalist line of handbags, wallets and belts — is crafted using recycled rubber tyre sheets. Mumbai-based founder and artist Sudheer Rajbhar previously used the material (which is fire and waterproof) in an installation piece that was centred on the demolition of slums in the city. “I used the rubber sheets to make bags filled with letters and pieces of debris I had collected from the cleared-off slums around town,” he shares. “I was in Dharavi one day when I realised that the beef ban (the 2015 Maharashtra state law prohibiting the slaughter of cows) had created a shortage of leather in the community; almost all tanneries had shut shop to become godowns, and the artisans — mostly Dalit — were out of work.”

Rajbhar proposed a solution: working with rubber tyre sheets sourced from Crawford Market. “Initially, they were skeptical about working with a new material,” recalls the 32-year-old. “They said ‘nahi hoga.’ So I started working with just one artisan early this year.” Today, he has seven on board.

Chamar Studio gives rubber tyres a second life


Chamar Studio functions out of Rajbhar’s family home in Mumbai’s Kandivali neighbourhood. The name, Chamar, is not an accidental one. During his family’s frequent visits to his ancestral village in Uttar Pradesh, Rajbhar interacted with the neighbouring Dalit chamar community. “They are leather artisans,” he explains. “As a child, I often heard the word ‘chamar’ used derogatorily, to call someone stupid or lesser than, when it actually refers to a profession. I want to bring back respect to this word,” he says, before adding with a laugh, “I’m curious to see how people in my village will react when we show them the brand we have created.”

The artist is no new voice of protest against the class divide. Last year, he curated an art collection by seven assistants and apprentices of reputed artists (at the Clark House Initiative in Mumbai), some of whom were working without any labour contracts. “It’s not often they get a chance to show their individual ability,” Rajbhar shares. “It’s not easy to break into the scene in bigger galleries unless you are from one of the top universities and speak good English.”

The road ahead

Even with all this subtext to his design work, Rajbhar is quick to insist that he is primarily an artist. The ‘activist’ tag, he says, is only incidental. With no formal training in accessories design, he leveraged his “understanding of the material” to come up with “simple, spontaneous” designs for the debut collection, which were then executed by the artisans. In a single day, each artisan is able to create either one big bag or two smaller ones. “We’ve even created waist pouches for a boutique in Paris called Tribe,” shares Rajbhar, “Now, we are looking for other materials to work with — I recently received a sample for a biodegradable fabric made from banana fibre from Kerala.”

Up next for Chamar Studio is a line of blue accessories — an homage to the colour of the uniforms of cobblers (or shoe-shine workers) seated outside the railway stations between Virar and Churchgate. “I have been observing them for a while now,” Rajbhar confesses. “Often, they have no work. They know basic stitching, and we intend to train them further to make bags for this line and share profits with them.”

The bags, priced between ₹1,500 and ₹6,500, can be purchased by contacting 9920541157. Details:

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Printable version | Jul 20, 2021 1:16:52 AM |

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