There is an artisan community located just outside of Kolkata India that practices an old craft technique of embossing and hand-painting leather. It’s called Shantiniketan and was started by the Tagore family – an Indian family of thinkers, artists, and poets.
In Rubina’s January collaboration, designer Hannah Thistlethwaite partnered with EMA, an artisan cooperative in Kolkata that practices the Shantiniketan technique. And together, they made the Dazzle Clutch Collection. The entire process takes place in EMA’s Production Unit outside of Kolkata. Around 200 artisans stay in EMA’s production house where they are provided food & lodging while they work from Tuesday to Saturday as many are from surrounding villages.
Below, they show us their process of how this collection was put together from concept to our online shop.
The Design Inspiration
Hannah, the Midsummer +1 founder and creative director, designed a pattern inspired by WW1 camouflaged ships. These ships were painted in a zigzag motif whose reflection was meant to dazzle and confuse enemies trying to target their ships on the water. Hannah used this idea to design a bold pattern, and then produced it on a metal dye cut that was used to emboss the leather.
Hannah chose to work with a group called the Equitable Marketing Association (EMA) in Kolkata as they’ve been perfecting their craft for more than 30 years and have extensive experience in the Shanti technique for international buyers.
Leather sourcing and tanning
The Dazzle Clutch uses goat leather. The Shanti Leather is purchased from Chennai by EMA suppliers. And then EMA purchases it from the tannery which is located at Bantalla, 20 km away from Central Kolkata.
To treat leather, it goes through a process of shaving, crusting, dyeing, hanging, staking and softening, spraying colour, milling, toggling and making the crushed sheets straight, ironing and measuring its length, breath and height. The Shanti Leather is tanned with vegetable ingredients found in vegetable matters, tree bark and other sources.
Shanti Leather is examined thoroughly for the thickness, smoothness of the surface and most importantly, the tick marks. It is only after this careful scrutiny, that the “Cutters” cut the leather into different parts as per the product and design specified.
The “Blockers” follow the Cutters and have the job of blocking the design on the perfected leather pieces.
Because of the physical labor that goes into embossing the leather, men usually take over this part of the process.
They press into the leather around 10 times to ensure a permanent and even mark into the leather.
Here you can see the deep embossed lines that make the bold pattern in the Dazzle Clutches.
Handpainting the leather
EMA provides a huge selection of dyes for handpainting on their leather products. Hannah carefully chose bold colors, including Indigo and Hot Pink as those resonant most with her three years of living in India. She also wanted a few color options that reminded her of home so she added an assortment of blues, reds, yellows, oranges to create a larger collection of different sized purses and foldovers. For Rubina, she exclusively chose a dark blue and lime green.
After the leather pieces are dried the “Touchers” do the touching or coloring on the embossed patterns. Sometimes the artisans spray-paint and silkscreen printing on the leather but Shantiniketan women skillfully hand painted each piece in the the Dazzle Clutch Collection.
“Fabrication” involves the process of stitching and pasting the lining onto the leather. This is also when the pieces of the bag are assembled into its final shape. Then the artisans paint a lacquer onto the bag. Lacquer prevents discoloration of the leather which caused by over exposure to the sun. The Dazzle clutches use a medium glossy lacquer to give the clutch a slight “dazzle”.
The one-of-a-kind Rubina Dazzle Clutch Collection can be purchased on ShopRubina.com for $112. This is a limited edition product, so get ’em while they’re hot.