Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textile Society of America 2014 Biennial Symposium Proceedings: New Directions: Examining the Past, Creating the Future, Los Angeles, California, September 10–14, 2014,


Copyright 2014 by the author(s).


Contemporary textile designers are part of a cultural shift that has brought into the mainstream a sense of ecological and social responsibility. Some are challenging the way the textile industry is conducted, questioning the existing business models. International media coverage has exposed the poor and unsafe working conditions of many of the people employed in this industry, cruelly demonstrated by the collapse in April 2013 of Rana Plaza, a garment manufacturing complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where 1127 workers died. This awareness has developed a social consciousness in many design communities, and as a result the development of ethical design practices. In India some foreign textile designers have developed ethical design business models through their collaborations with traditional textile artisans by including the artisans’ techniques of embroidery, weaving and printing techniques in their products. Designers consider that their support enables the continuation of traditional skills while the perceived link of artisan communities with positive environmental practice reinforces the sustainable design ethos. Although the benefits of such collaborations cannot be underestimated, generally the position of the predominantly rural based artisan communities is problematic. Their low socio-economic status in Indian society as discussed in the 2011 Crafts Economics and Impact Study by the Crafts Council of India, ‘is compounded by extremely low literacy and education levels.’ The practicalities of language differences and geographic distances restrict foreign designers from direct contact with the artisans instead they rely on a city based agent or business owner. Through my research and design experience in India I have considered that it is important to go beyond the urban environment to record the voices of the artisans. This paper examines the textile artisans’ perspective on their collaborations with foreign designers. I have asked the artisans if these collaborative business models will provide them with a sustainable future?