Nandini Misra and Vishakha Ruhela founded Mrittika in 2016 with the aim of bringing authentic handlooms and handmade textiles with a contemporary aesthetic to the Indian audience. In order to achieve this, they started researching craft communities that they could work with directly to merge the community’s traditional knowledge with the Mrittika aesthetic. The plan was to work with one community for one year, making two major collections for which the resources and techniques used would be the community’s but the designs would be contemporary.
They launched online in August 2017 and today, they up-cycle donated textiles in the lining of their bags and for their packaging thus being an environmentally friendly fashion brand that uses 100% plastic free packaging. On the production front, Mrittika works with a small unit which has an average of 3 employees around the year and have involved roadside tailors to help develop the upcycled packaging bags. Mrittika currently pays an average of 25% of the product price to the people who make it and are committed to continue paying them the same, if not more.
The first craft included in the production process was Ajrakh - a centuries-old hand block printing technique, which is now practiced in a village called Ajrakhpur in the Bhuj district of Gujarat, India. Ajrakhpur came into existence after the Bhuj earthquake in 2002, which lead to a dismal loss of natural resources needed to practice the craft. The community came together under Dr. Ismail Mohammad Khatri, who is a well-known Ajrakh master craftsman, to settle a new village of which Ajrakh was the backbone. Mrittika had the privilege of working with his son, Mr Sufiyan Ismail Khatri, whom they lovingly refer to as Sufiyan bhai.
Although Dr. Khatri is the most popular figure from Ajrakhpur, the entire village is involved in making Ajrakh products. While men do the printing and dyeing, the women take care of finishing edges on scarves and other products, and making tassels to adorn them. They often help in attaching brand labels by hand too. Today, Ajrakh is one of India’s best known crafts and attracts several local as well as international visitors annually.
Mrittika’s process involves direct collaboration, which means living with the craft community, working throughout the day with them on their designs and getting to know the craftspeople better. “Not only does it make our workflow smoother and give a face for the craftsperson to relate the project to, it also gives us an in-depth look into the lives of the people involved in making the fabric come to life. We have a blog where we share the details and stories of the people and communities we work with, and such information is crucial to that blog. The blog in turn, provides the audience a peek into the craftspeople's daily routine.” says Nandini. Direct collaborations also eliminate the need of a middle man, who often gobbles up much of the artisans’ revenue and exploits their traditional knowledge for his/her personal gains.