Collaboration: People and Motifs

Artisans skilled in traditional textile techniques in India working with ferangi textile designers: the collaboration from the artisans’ perspective

Deborah Emmett

MDes(Hons) candidate

Supervised by Liz Williamson

The primary research, commenced in 2011, consists of interviews with traditional textile artisans working within a range of business models in Rajasthan and Kashmir, India. The artisans were asked about their experience of working with foreign designers. Through analysis of the interviews I hope to determine improved business models where foreign designers can work in collaboration with artisans directly so that the design and marketing process can involve both the designer and artisans. The artisan’s story can be relayed to the consumer but also the designer’s creative input maintained.


The thesis and collaborative project is a result of my own textile design practice over the past ten years working with textile artisans in India. During this period I have become aware of various issues that I consider should be addressed by the increasing number of designers working with traditional craft communities.

In the foreword of Designers meet Artisans Indrasen Vencatachellum, UNESCO Chief, Section for Arts, Crafts and Design, asks “Can there be a well-balanced and mutually beneficial interaction between designers and artisans?” He discusses the need for the designer to act as an intermediary between the artisan and the consumer, “a ‘bridge’ between the artisan’s know-how and his knowledge of what to make.” New approaches and the introduction of new types of products by designers can offer new opportunities for traditional artisans. In contrast there is criticism that the artisan’s role becomes that of a producer subject to the designer’s influence with no reference to the artisan’s cultural context. Instead the products are designed for foreign, unknown markets.

There is considerable documentation about foreign designers working with traditional textile artisans in India usually relating their own experiences and perceived benefit they are providing the artisans by their support. But as Dr Kevin Murray observes in his article Outsourcing the hand: An analysis of craft-design collaborations across the global divide the reportage is from the designer or NGO while the artisan’s viewpoint remains unrecorded. Although some websites do have quotes from artisans they tend to appear as an affirmation of the particular organization and hence as a marketing device.

What about the artisan’s perspective on their collaborations with foreign designers? Does the relationship have a positive impact on their communities? What are the artisans’ expectations of the collaborations? Through a series of interviews with artisans I intend to establish a dialogue that will ultimately benefit collaborations between foreign designers and traditional Indian textile artisans by developing a heightened awareness of the requirements and realities experienced by both the designers and artisans.



Deborah Emmett

Deborah Emmett, Bhukhu, appliqué embroiderer, from Maharbat Village, near Barmer, Rajasthan Photograph: Deborah Emmett

Deborah Emmett, <i>Bhukhu, appliqué embroiderer, from Maharbat Village, near Barmer, Rajasthan</i> Photograph: Deborah Emmett