woman in black t-shirt sitting at a cafe

The endless consumption of goods and accumulation of belongings creates a demand that enables companies to grow so large that they no longer see anything but numbers and profit margins. The streamlining of profit margins can dehumanise the processes of production, whereas artisanal production represents great beauty, skill and a lifetime of experience. Kaligarh, meaning artisan, is a brand based in Nepal, founded by Jyoti Upadhyay. We spoke with Jyoti to gain an insight into Kaligarh and their jewellery, and to see how they are working to leave a positive impact upon Nepal, adapting how their business functions in order to incorporate notions of respect and dignity. When asked how Kaligarh began, Jyoti recalls:

“I was increasingly looking for more socially motivated businesses – local businesses – whether they were social enterprises and had a distinct social mission or whether they were just responsible businesses. I think that they have a huge role to play in stimulating the economy, but also with dignity and self reliance- all of the things that can get lost in many developing countries”

The unashamed drive for efficiency is an ethically problematic aspect of business, where profits are maximised at the expense of things that cannot be measured so easily, such as the dignity of and respect for employees. Kaligarh stands in opposition to this overextended sense of efficiency by focussing upon respect for the people, history, culture and art. They create pieces of jewellery tangled with history, tradition and cultural significance, beginning with the people. This approach is beneficial for the social and biological environment, and is therefore sustainable in several senses. The masterful combination of creative design and social responsibility can be found to have grown out of Jyoti’s recognition of the importance of respectful relationships. The implementation of a vision that advocates the notion of “dignity in work” has created Kaligarh, made up of several individual artisans, each with their own story and skills to contribute. It is a demonstration of how businesses can be socially responsible, caring for not only their impact upon the environment in terms of carbon footprint but also their impact upon society.

“I don’t want to turn into a statistic. I hope that our impact will grow but I want it to be a deep impact, and that’s more important to me. A slow and meaningful, deep impact.”

Kaligarh upholds traditional methods and skills in the production of artisanal jewellery, ensuring that those skills can continue, by giving them a place in the world today. What Kaligarh is perhaps most significant for, is its creation of opportunities in Nepal where before there had been a “growing trend of Nepalese leaving and going to the Gulf, either the Gulf or Malaysia, as migrant labourers. They are working in difficult circumstances, often in situations that can be thought of as modern day slavery- a lot of their rights are taken away.”  When searching for artisans to work with Kaligarh, Jyoti found that it’s “really common to hear “there’s nobody left to do that anymore”. It’s not just because the older more skilled artisans are getting old, some of the people that are skilled just feel that it’s hopeless and therefore leave out of desperation. To me, there seems to be so much potential and beauty here.” It is this potential that Jyoti is making use of through Kaligarh, creating opportunities that allow artisanal skills to flourish, skills that are not mechanised.

“It keeps some of those skills going. By default it’s environmentally friendly. That part is definitely very important for me”

The latest Puraniya collection can be described as a reimagining of traditional jewellery. It pays respect to the past from which it came whilst being modern and therefore appropriate for the world that we live in today. The collection encapsulates the diverse cultural history in Nepal through its origins in tradition, simultaneously recognising its position in the now, by being adapted for everyday wear.

“In Nepal it’s very difficult to separate culture, spirituality and religion. They’re all so tightly bound together. The reason I got into this, [was that] I started looking into different kinds of jewellery. I studied anthropology, and I travel as widely as I can throughout Nepal and the region. I found that a lot things that distinguish cultural and ethnic groups in Nepal were being left behind… What really interested me is the lack of documentation. There’s very little visual documentation, less in text, and even less in the form of stories of what these pieces mean and how they were passed on. So I was interested in that element and that’s how I got into researching them. I have tried to bring a lot of that across in the Puraniya collection especially. So when people buy the piece, we include a short description of how the piece is usually worn, when it may be passed on, to give a little bit of context. Of course you cannot delve into the history just in a tag, but to me it’s very important to give a real sense of that context. I would love to show how incredible and diverse Nepal is.”

Culture and tradition are arguably the most meaningful aspects of living within a society- it is where many feel their identity is rooted. One is often most comfortable at home, wherever that is in the world for each individual. This is recognised by Kaligarh, as the artisans are able to define their own timetables and workspaces, sharing their skills on their own terms.

“Traditionally, artisans in Nepal work in their own spaces, in their own independent workshops or homes. Quite often these spaces have been in their families for generations. Consequently, there’s something very alien about having one workshop when you bring several artisans together. I wrestled with this to begin with as I knew it would be more efficient but I also knew that everyone is so much more comfortable in their own spaces, working to their own timetables. In Nepal there are many ritual obligations and family obligations, it’s important to be able to be there for these things. I think that it’s also important for people to have the freedom, so that if there is a wedding in the family for example, they can take three days away…so I decided for the most part, our artisans would work in independent spaces. People know where to find them, people come in a chat throughout the day, their kids are running around”

It can be too easy to rely upon measurable aspects of business such as profits as an indication of success, but in order for the future to be an improvement on the past, the past must not be forgotten or disregarded. This idea can be encapsulated by the notions of going slowly and being aware of physical surroundings and of the historical and cultural importance of what we buy and how these purchases affect others around us. Kaligarh recognises this, simultaneously honoring the past whilst moving forward and embracing change. If one consciously focuses upon slowing down it enables one to consider and recognise the impact of our actions, ensuring that we are not blindly contributing to practises that we do not wish to be involved in. It is this that Kaligarh uses to ensure that as it grows Jyoti doesn’t lose what makes Kaligarh special- the artisans themselves.

“I’m aware that what we’re doing at the moment is very small scale and that’s how I wanted to start things: having a very personal and direct relationship with each of the artisans so that I can tell what kind of impact it’s having. They are small steps, I definitely wouldn’t claim to be generating thousands of jobs right now. I do think that the artisanal sector can have a big role to play in making the economy a bit more sustainable whilst at the same time continuing a lot of these crafts. It’s early stages for us right now, that’s how I see it. I’m hoping to be able to expand that over the coming months, and the coming years”

KALIGARH | jewellery

ENVIRONMENT | Kaligarh is recognised as a Fair Trade Supplier by the British Association of Fair Trade Shops and Suppliers (BAFTS), and is a member of the Ethical Fashion Forum

ETHICS | Handmade by small-scale artisans in Nepal and elsewhere in the Himalaya. Brand pays tribute to the art and artisans of the Himalayan region, both ancient and contemporary whilst playing with motifs and designs inherited from generations past, re-crafting them into new forms.

ARTICLE BY:  Annabel Waterhouse-Biggins | PHOTOGRAPHY: Madara Freimane

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