Will we continue to search for happiness in the consumption of things? Will we be satisfied with the system that makes us feel rich while leaving our world desperately poor? Will we continue to turn a blind eye to the lives of those behind our clothes? Or will this be a turning point, a new chapter in our story, when together, we begin to make a real change as we remember that everything we wear was touched by human hands? Amidst all the challenges, for all the problems that feel bigger than us and beyond our control, maybe we could start here, with clothing.
Boonai, a project of Gramastha, based from the hills of Uttarakhand, is a range of handspun, naturally dyed, and hand-knitted woollen products. It has been built on the principles of sustainable living by locally sourcing organic raw materials, honouring indigenous skills and crafts, and creating livelihood opportunities at a holistic level for the women artisans of Almora.
WIth the passage of time, the indigenous knowledge of hand-knitting is losing its identity amidst the frantic entry of fast fashion. The elderly don’t see any reason to pass on the craft to the lower generation and no surprise if within a decade, the entire craft gets swept away with fragments of it only to be seen in literature. By tapping into the skillset of the local women community and helping them finetune their craft, Project Boonai aims to unlock wealth as well as bring change to their livelihoods.
As the cultural capital of Uttarakhand, the town is known for its cultural heritage and one of its kind handcrafted handloom products. What once was the home to hundreds of deodar trees is today, in the name of development, overrun by malls, theatres, hotels and the like. Like the rest of the world, this region is facing first hand the repercussions of climate change. Frequent forest fires, erratic weather patterns, increasing temperature rises and depletion of natural resources have adversely affected the biodiversity but also the very survival of the natives.
Project Boonai is inspired by the natural beauty of the hills and the indigenous craftsmanship of the local community. The wool is locally sourced and handspun by women artisans with simple tools such as Bhageshwari charkha. The fabric is dyed with natural organic colours and hand-knitted. Harvested rainwater and solar energy are used to ensure a minimal carbon footprint during the dyeing process. The procurement of dyeing material is also a fascinating process. The browns come from the skin of walnut, Brazilwood, and catechu; orange from madder root, blue from indigo, grey from the fermentation of iron in molasses, and green from the rind of pomegranate.
The journey towards setting up and maintaining a sustainable enterprise, and an ecosystem that benefits society and the environment while trying to uplift the value of Indian handicrafts, has not been a simple process. But, regardless of that, Project Boonai has carved a niche for itself. Boonai adheres to the value of being responsible in manufacturing, and channels the renewable resources provided by the environment, while giving women artisans of the region sustenance and confidence to take pride in their work.