Don’t let Gopalji’s frail frame and greying hairline belie his keen eye and ability for precision. Only the steadiest hands are entrusted with the job he does so effortlessly every single day.

Standing in the middle of a long, paint-stained table, this 60-year-old block printing expert takes a breath, pauses ever so slightly over the freshly cut fabric and firmly presses the wooden block, followed by repeated thumps of his fist to fix the design. Stepping back from the table, he examines his work. “Hmmm,” he says satisfied, and continues until a row of connected geometric patterns have formed the base of your JIVA Kimono Sky.

The craft of hand-block printing goes back centuries -- Gopalji learnt it from his parents, and they learnt it from his grandparents. But the reality is that Gopalji may be the last in his family to know how to handle a block, with this craft slowly fading in the face of industrialisation and factory made garments. As is the case in most of rural India, children of artisans move to cities in search of work or a ‘better life’, leading to broken communities and urban squalor. At Dhonk, however, the story is a little different. The artisan teams who craft our JIVA Kimonos belong to families of reformed tiger poachers, and over the years have been given skills training allowing them to rely on alternative sources of livelihood, in turn saving the Majestic Bengal Tiger.

If communities and nature can co-exist, the planet will thrive. And that’s the vision we shared with Dhonk at the start of our collaboration. By offering these tribal artisanal communities an alternative source of livelihood through a beautifully designed garment, we moved a step closer to our vision of sustainable style with impact. 

Book of blocks

The block printing team at Dhonk is led by the experienced Gopalji, and comprises of women belonging to the Mogiya tribe, who work with blocks and colours to create a variety of patterns and products. A single block takes weeks to prepare from scratch, starting with a paper design being transferred onto the block of teakwood, carved out carefully and then left to soak in oil for two weeks before it’s ready to use.

Team at Dhonk

The idea may seem simple in principle – a big stamp that creates a repeat design using paint instead of ink, but in reality, hand block printing is trickier than it looks. The prints need to align, and depend entirely on the experience and precision of the artisan printing your cloth. As you hear the thump of fists against blocks in this open-air workshop, you know beauty is being created.



June 18, 2020 — Kanak Hirani

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