How a Clutch Helps South Asian Communities Thrive

Posted by on June 4, 2011 in Asia, Entrepreneurship

Too often, we look at our consumer purchases and take them for face value. Too often we forget to look at the processes and pathway that was used to bring those products to us. Too often, we ignore the environmental or social consequences of these purchases. Yet around the world, there is a movement to change this “hear-no-evil, see-no-evil” mentality. People are choosing to become more conscious about their purchasing decisions and purchasing products that are sustainable or fair trade. The artisans and cooperatives that are producing these products, with skill and age-old methods, are finally being recognized.

One such group is Sandur Kushala Kala Kendra (SKKK), established by the Sandur Manganese & Iron Ores Limited in 1984 to revive the traditional crafts of Sandur, which is located in Karnataka, India. The talented artisans that are represented by this cooperative are producing dresses, bed and table linens, wall hangings, home décor pieces and clutches.

So let’s take a look at the story of a clutch.


Their work is ornate – a colourful combination of embroidery and mirror work to produce the glitter and the bright rainbow-coloured fabrics that signify their lifestyle. They use intricate methods of appliqué, patchwork and fine embroidery, and use a variety of raw material like mirrors, shells, aluminum buttons and jewellery pieces. But who are the people behind this work? Who makes the clutch?

The Lambani artisans of Kendra belong to a nomadic tribe known as the Banjara, who are often referred to as the “gypsies of India.”  TheLambani Artisans word ‘banjara’ is said to be derived from a Sanskrit word ‘Vanaj’ or ‘Banaj’ meaning a trader and comprises of two words: “Ban” which translates as jungle and “Jara” as wanderer or mover. Therefore, they are literally referred to as one who moves or wanders in the jungle. In ancient times, they were known to transport food grains on the back of animals and live a very naturalistic lifestyle. To this day, they have still retained much of their characteristic culture and heritage. This is prevalent in their attire, personal belongings and amazing artisanal embroidery.

It is this embroidery that results in beautiful pieces like this clutch. Made of silk, with intricate needle-work, this clutch is an example of how these artisans are keeping tradition alive, while keeping current trends in mind. If you spot it in someone’s hand on street, you may acknowledge its beauty and intricacy, but would you ever realize the people behind it? All in all, 500 artisans from 8 villages work with Kala Kendra and 300 of these specialize in Lambani embroidery. The rest are involved with dyeing, Khadi (a coarse homespun cotton cloth) weaving & spinning, sculpting in stone & wood, and creating products by using natural fibers.

Due to their skill and the help of Kendra, they have become self-sufficient and are receiving various other benefits such as subsidized ration and bonuses. By encouraging, training and compensating the craftspeople fairly, the Kendra is ensuring these women are revitalizing their culture and their lives. In addition, partnerships with other organizations are allowing the Kendra to get assistance in training, design, product development and marketing.

In 2004, Sandur Kushala Kala Kendra received the prestigious UNESCO Seal of Excellence for ‘Handicrafts in South Asia’ as recognition of excellence in contemporary crafts. They have received numerous other awards and great recognition for the Lambani work they produce.

Therefore, the story of a clutch can go well beyond just the fashion trends and style it embodies, or even just your desire for a new fashion accessory; the story of a clutch can include women in impoverished regions becoming self-sufficient and communities having a chance to celebrate their heritage. So next time you purchase a product, take a look at the path it took to get to you and you might discover an interesting and inspiring story.


Shopanthropic is a social venture based on the concept of using purchasing power as a tool to promote social change locally and internationally. We provide sustainable fashion and lifestyle products that are inspired by the latest trends from around the world.

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