Chhapa, an Ahmedabad-based brand by Shipa Patel is doing their best to provide their customers with conscious, environment-friendly clothing along with reviving a 300-year-old block printing method by adding some modern touch to the prints.
As a millennial growing up, I was always intrigued by my grandmother’s wardrobe. It was a closet that took me back to yesteryears – tales of bright Indian prints like Bandhani, Batik, Kalamkari could be relived by her saris. But, with the passing days and rapid advancements in the world, new mechanisms introduced in the field of textiles replaced these hand-arts with high-end machines.
A traditional art form – block printing method was also in the tatters until Chhapa, an Ahmedabad-based brand decided to work for its upliftment. It still uses the traditional block printing method which is endangered in the current fashion scenario. Although the method was accepted by the artisans and aficionados in flourishing India, it remains on the peak of extinction in the modern era.
The brand vouches as it brings the talent of small artisans to the forefront, whose expertise lies in the dying art form of hand-weaving and hand-block printing. From elegant ivory fish chanderi silk saree to colourful printed ones; from quirky printed shirts for men to intricate home decors – there is something in store for all. Connecting both the modern and traditional ethos, raw materials such as organic cotton, khadi and silk are delicately woven and taking part in the zero-waste ideology, all the leftover materials are used to create pouches, camera straps, stoles and dupattas.
Talking to Shipa Patel – founder and designer of Chhapa, she explains how handmade clothing can be both elegant and fun and the brand’s ideology – ‘Bringing Authentic Handwork of Art to the Urban Street’.
To begin with, how did the brand Chhapa come about? Any special story regarding the title of the brand?
The startup was founded as an avocation to do some creative work and experiments in the field of block printing. Eventually, I found the pursuit of happiness to contribute my little part towards Conscious Fashion. A lot of artisans were on the verge of giving up practising this art because most textiles are now printed using high-end machines. We wanted to rejuvenate the art of block printing by giving them a quirky dimension that will help us give artisans more work as we grow bigger. ‘CHHAPA’ means to leave a Chhap (an imprint) in Gujarati. When a design is stamped on any material using a wooden block, it is called the Chhap (Chhapa). Since I wanted to rejuvenate the block printing art, I decided that all the products must revolve around this technique. Hence, I couldn’t find any better brand name than ‘Chhapa’.
How does the design process evolve? Does Chhapa have a team?
Half of our team – my husband and I are in Australia. I take care of all the designing stuff, prepare them throughout the year and visit India once or twice to work with artisans in Jaipur. My husband, Hardik takes care of social media, IT and business development over the phone. The other half – Bimal and Shital are in Ahmedabad. Bimal takes care of all the purchasing and production of things and Shital supervises our retail store.
Could you enlighten us about the art of hand-weaving, hand-block printing and its modern exploration in your brand?
It all started as a hobby in the first place. So, my first encounter with block printing was after my college days when I visited a small village called Deesa, near my hometown in Gujarat. After completing my bachelor’s in interior design, I was still in a dilemma about its pursuance as a full-time career. However, being an art lover and admirer of handmade things, I was instantly fascinated by the whole process of block printing. I approached the artisans to print a few samples as part of my avocation and after a few visits, they agreed to do it. As I got more involved in the process, I realised that both the art and the artisans are really going through a bad phase and needs rejuvenation. So the main inspiration behind the idea was “The process of hand-weaving and natural dyeing with hand block printing is like beautiful poetry which origins from small but mighty thought, shape itself during it and finally results into a merely magical creation”, which is dying slowly. I don’t want the artisans to give up on this beautiful art which has been passed on through generations.
The brand has played a pivotal role in preserving the handloom heritage. Has there been any significant changes in the industry in the audience and customer space?
Our main target audience is definitely the teens and young working generation. Our saree collection is the most popular in every segment of age in women. We started off with small gallery exhibitions and then tried our hands in bigger flea markets. In late 2016, we launched our online store chhapa.in and in 2018, we launched our first flagship retail store in Ahmedabad. The uniqueness of Chhapa is mainly the prints. Our designs are modern, casual and contemporary contrary to traditional block prints. This has given a new flavour to this art which has attracted more younger generation as our customer base. Moreover, we are very particular about choosing the quality of fabrics so we can deliver 100% pure cotton and feather experience to our customers. We have always wanted to connect with the younger audience and make them more conscious fashion-savvy which in turn, will be better for us and the environment in the longer run. We have a wide range of products starting from women’s wear, men’s shirts, home decor, bags and accessories.
Chhapa concentrates on sustainable and ethical making of their products. How do you make it possible?
Well, our motto itself is to deliver an environment-friendly and socially responsible style statement. It starts off with all the fabric that we use are 100% sustainable in nature. All the dyes we use are azo-free which are approved by the government that it is not harmful to both the environment and the artisans who work with it. Even, our packing does not contain any plastics. Currently, we are in talks with a new start-up who has developed dyes from waste bark. If that collaboration works out, we want to do an exclusive collection with those dyes, helping the new startup grow faster and reach to a wider audience out there.
How has it uplifted the local artisans and their livelihoods?
When we started working with the family of artisans back in 2013, they were on the verge of giving up this art as they were not receiving enough work to sustain the whole family. After they started working with us, we are able to give them not only enough work but they now have to extend their printing facility to be able to supply to the demands. We have given them more than 25 Lakh rupees of work in 2019 alone and this is the single most thing we are very proud of apart from anything. We have also educated them on how to make their safety a priority when working with all the dyes and printing. Also, we have made sure that the waste management systems are well in place. With both our online and retail stores, we have been able to map 12-15 Jobs which includes a family of artisans, tailors, office staff, retail staff and so on.
How has this pandemic affected your commercial space and its backgrounds in any way?
Undoubtedly, these are unprecedented times and it has affected almost all the industry out there. While it could mean to take difficult decisions as a business but the safety of our own self, our artisans, co-workers and customers are utmost important. We hope the government will take ample steps to stimulate the economy and support small businesses. Like all the other difficult times in the past, this too shall pass. The only thing we can do is to handle it gracefully by avoiding all the unnecessary chaos and blame games. In these difficult times, let’s enjoy and rejoice what we have achieved as an individual and business so far. Treat this as an opportunity to introspection and come up with something even more beautiful and more creative. With this creativity, we are hoping to bring more and more work to artisans when everything goes back to normal.