india

What happens when we choose artisans and their beauty

An elder woman of the Hong Phoi village in Nagaland, India, sharing her traditional crafted adornments typically worn for the annual Hornbill Festival.

An elder woman of the Hong Phoi village in Nagaland, India, sharing her traditional crafted adornments typically worn for the annual Hornbill Festival.

When I’ve traveled abroad and met artisans directly, even when no common language enables us to understand each other (or even when a willing translator doesn’t have much patience), a subtle kind of conversation begins to emerge.

It’s a kind of conversation where gestures speak, expressions are felt, body language conveys and nuanced intonations are understood. There is little spoken between us, if any. What brings us together is a connection over one thing - her beautifully handmade craft. It’s in that moment that I know more intimately her talented gifts. And perhaps she knows something about me, that I genuinely love what she’s made and appreciate a glimpse into her world.

I believe in this kind of beauty that delights the senses and inspires the heart. The beauty of the handmade object connects us with others, and them with us, through these subtle conversations and exchanges. Global handmade brings people, culture, place, and creativity together.

Far Left and Right: cotton scarf and throw with Naga designs by Chin ethnic weavers from Myanmar; Second left: cotton shaman shawl from the Apatani tribe, Ziro Valley in Arunachal Pradesh, India; Second right: silk and lotus thread scarf from Paw Khone Village, Myanmar.

Far Left and Right: cotton scarf and throw with Naga designs by Chin ethnic weavers from Myanmar; Second left: cotton shaman shawl from the Apatani tribe, Ziro Valley in Arunachal Pradesh, India; Second right: silk and lotus thread scarf from Paw Khone Village, Myanmar.

We can positively influence the sustainability of the diverse global aesthetic and cultural heritage of our world. Our relationship with global artisans and their handmade craft matters a great deal. We do have a role in this; it affects change.

When we choose artisans and the beauty of handmade, we make a statement to the world:

As conscious consumers we seek transparency and expect fairness to artisans. As global citizens we advocate for equality and advance opportunity to artisans. As human beings we respect diversity and celebrate the creativity of artisans.

A master weaver at Khang, a center for fine silks, textile design, Lao fashion and traditional weaving in Luang Prabang, Laos.

A master weaver at Khang, a center for fine silks, textile design, Lao fashion and traditional weaving in Luang Prabang, Laos.

This kind of beauty that delights the senses and inspires the heart is needed in our world. Without global artisans and their handmade craft, the world would be a much duller and narrower place, indeed.

Let’s choose artisans and their beauty.

Why do we care about a person halfway across the globe?

One person halfway across the world, an artisan, has brought me the simple joy from experiencing her created beauty. I may not know her story, but I want to tell her that she has impacted mine.


Women weavers and leaders from Rengam, an artisan cooperative in Majuli Island, Assam, India, which has supported over 80 women affected by floods and erosion by harnessing the unique weaving traditions of the Mising ethnic group.

Women weavers and leaders from Rengam, an artisan cooperative in Majuli Island, Assam, India, which has supported over 80 women affected by floods and erosion by harnessing the unique weaving traditions of the Mising ethnic group.

“Knowing the story of one person can change the perception of a whole people, of an entire place, its culture and history, and even a war. Knowing the story of one person tells us more than we might not have ever known.”

This is what my friend Sushmita Mazumdar tells me when I ask her the question which has been on my mind lately, why do we care about a person halfway across the globe? Through her StudioPause, Sush’s creative and community work often confronts stereotypes and invites new perspectives through art, writing, and stories.

As if led to more insight, I come across this:

“…how interconnected we are, how our action and our inaction can impact people we might never know, and never meet, every day of our lives, all around the world”.

This is from Jacqueline Novogratz, innovative founder of Acumen, a nonprofit venture fund, sharing the story of the blue sweater (she had donated it to charity as a girl, only to find it a decade later on a boy in Rwanda, confirmed by seeing her name written on the tag).

I love what both of these women are saying. They both speak of a genuine truth born out of their own experience.

Not only has the artisan cooperative become a source of skills training and income for the women, it has provided a platform for emerging women leaders and collective action. Weaver Jan Moni, second from left, draping the handwoven and hand dyed stole she made from Assamese Eri raw silk.

Not only has the artisan cooperative become a source of skills training and income for the women, it has provided a platform for emerging women leaders and collective action. Weaver Jan Moni, second from left, draping the handwoven and hand dyed stole she made from Assamese Eri raw silk.

When I ask myself that question, why do I care about a person halfway across the globe, my first leaning is towards artisans. It is because they bring a rich beauty into the world that is unlike my own.

For as long as I can remember, I have gravitated towards the beauty in other cultures as if to fill a void experienced in my own American culture. The beauty of other cultures has always allured and illuminated my senses, and in particular handcrafted objects that offer a glimpse into another’s ritual and daily life. By my engaged curiosity, I can feel a connection to the object, to the person who made it, and to the energy that is expressed from the creator’s hands.

Detail of the handwoven stole that I lovingly acquired. Eri silk, from silkworms only found in Assam, India, is considered a ‘peace silk’. The caterpillars live a full life cycle in the silk spinning process.

Detail of the handwoven stole that I lovingly acquired. Eri silk, from silkworms only found in Assam, India, is considered a ‘peace silk’. The caterpillars live a full life cycle in the silk spinning process.

As an artist, I wish I could do what they do. I am in awe. I have such respect and admiration it’s almost embarrassing. I fall in love. One person halfway across the world, an artisan, has brought me the simple joy from experiencing her created beauty. I may not know her story, but I want to tell her that she has impacted mine.

Throughout 20 villages, women typically work on hand looms found under their homes. Women also have access to the Rengam workshop for looms and raw materials.

Throughout 20 villages, women typically work on hand looms found under their homes. Women also have access to the Rengam workshop for looms and raw materials.

I want to do whatever I can to create sustainable opportunities for her and other artisans to continue to do what they do and to honor their unique cultural identity and heritage.

And with that, share a glimpse of their cultural beauty with other people halfway across the globe.

Read more about how Rengam began here.  Discover more about the rare Eri silk here