With a motive to remove the prejudices related to the Chamar community, Sudheer Rajbhar has been working with the artisans from the community to create sustainable bags, shoes, belts, and more under 'Chamar Studio'.
From citing animals' names to certain communities' words, Indian society is accustomed to throwing slurs at people to show anger and dissatisfaction. One such community that falls not only the victim of the slurs but is also considered "untouchable" by the orthodox minds is 'Chamar,' a Dalit community that has been classified under 'Schedule Caste.' The initiative, named 'Chamar Studio' by Mumbai-based Sudheer Rajbhar, is, thus, aimed at removing the notions attached to this community.
Growing up in the slums of Mumbai, Rajbhar observed various caste-based discrimination. While he was studying Fine Arts at Vasai Art School, he started a project wherein he distributed bags with the word 'Chamar' written on them to accumulate people's reactions to it. On receiving a good response, Rajbhar decided to give his thought a definite shape while also making sure to contribute towards not deteriorating the environment's health.
Rajbhar met with a few artisans belonging to the Chamar community or the group, popular as leather workers in the Santacruz area, and proposed the idea of working together. "I wanted to bring their craft into the mainstream media," Rajbhar remembers. Although he desired to work with the artisans to make utility items like bags, Rajbhar was determined not to use leather for them.
He started working with the artisans to make products like bags and accessories. Initially, Rajbhar did not own space and began the work from his home in Kandivali. On the other hand, artisans could easily work from any place they wanted. "From a shoe cobbler on the stations to the artisans sitting roadside, all of them could work remotely," he says.
Rajbhar was firm on keeping the name "Chamar" for his social enterprise. "In Europe, words and brands like 'Chanel' are immensely popular among consumers and appear extremely fascinating too. I thought, why not use the community's name, who is the force behind the products, and hence, kept it 'Chamar Studio,'" he stated, adding that he also wanted to present the term artistically.
A hit in the fashion industry
Chamar Studio, which started in 2020 and now works with four to five artisans, uses recycled rubber out of discarded tyres and canvas to add a tint of sustainability to the craft. The products, including bags, shoes, and belts, are being sold online. According to Rajbhar, consumers from Maharashtra, Bihar, and Europe, mostly Paris, constitute the majority of their clients.
What makes the fashion label even more appealing is the fact that the products are 100% handmade by artisans from the community, which also aims to remove the concept of "untouchability" associated with Chamar. "The whole idea of our enterprise is to provide an alternative with sustainable fashion solutions while also ensuring that people use the products made by the hands of the Chamar community," Rajbhar states.
While working with the artisans, Rajbhar realized a few behavioural patterns and problems of the community and is determined to solve them. He has observed that the community artisans have become accustomed to getting work and finishing it on time but do not use their skills to create designs. "I want our artisans to be self-dependent by creating designs themselves," Rajbhar says.
With such a mindset, he has been training the artisans at Government Leather Working School in Bandra regularly. "If the artisans start using their skills with interest, they can also become designers or can deal with designers," he says. Moreover, Rajbhar runs the 'Chamar Foundation' to assist the artisans with funds and finances.
While Rajbhar is looking forward to a good engagement at his first store in Colaba, in South Mumbai, he also has plans to provide space for the artisans in the store. "People can meet the artisans who are behind the products, and the designers can collaborate with them at our store," he says.
Talking about the responses of people as of now, Rajbhar says, "We have received good responses so far. People have loved not only our products but also the name of the enterprise and the thought process behind it. We hope for the same love at our new store."