Modernising a 1000-year-old craft with new designs and natural dyes

Rainbow Textiles + Neel Batik

For-Profit • Artisan-Owned • B2B

STARTED IN 2005

By Khatri Kasim Haji Moosa, Khatri Mohammad Haji Moosa & Late Khatri Aiyub Haji Moosa

LOCATION

Mundra, Gujarat

CRAFTS

Block Printed & Hand-Painted Batik

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PRODUCTS

Apparel, Fabric

ARTISANS 

7

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DID YOU KNOW?

Batik is an almost 1,000 year old traditional wax resist dyeing and block printing craft practised in Indonesia among other cultures. 

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Though wax-resist-dyed textiles can be found across cultures and time, according to a popular belief, batik is said to have originated from the Indonesian island of Java, where the technique was refined and elevated. Local legends share stories of the batik being carried to Kutch, Gujarat by seasoned, master craftsmen, during the time of the Ramayana.

Shakil Khatri is the go-to batik artisan in Mundra, Gujarat. A 6th generation artisan, he has been perfecting the craft since he was 17.

A majority of batik artisans in Kutch — if not almost every single one — are Khatris; Kutchi-speaking Muslims.
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THE APPROACH

While he was taught dyeing and printing by his uncle, Shakil credits his design and entrepreneurial education to Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya, making him a pioneer among batik printers. By putting emphasis on retaining traditions and originality of the craft form, the course helped Shakil value his own craft legacy.

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“This hand block printing technique is an inherited tradition of my forefathers. I knew everything there was to know about technique, what I didn’t know was how to think creatively and imaginatively beyond the same bunch of patterns we used since childhood.”
— SHAKIL KHATRI, MANAGING PARTNER, RAINBOW TEXTILES & NEEL BATIK
 
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CHALLENGES

Batik perceived to be a lesser craft
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The Khatri community practices different crafts like bandhani, ajrakh, block printing and batik. But the value of batik is lesser than the other craft forms, resulting in a consumer mindset that batik is a cheaper craft. They perceive it to only be a good option as a cheap giveaway during weddings. 

— SHAKIL KHATRI, MANAGING PARTNER, RAINBOW TEXTILES & NEEL BATIK
Cheap replicas drive down price
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The popularity of batik and the ease of production associated with the craft result in many untrained artisans taking up the craft to make a quick buck. 

“While artisans in Ahmedabad and Jetpur also practice batik, they only do it to drive up competition, and downgrade the market by reducing prices, working with lower margins, and giving products at throwaway prices. Both are sold in the market as batik, but there is a ‘heaven and earth’ difference in the quality.” 

— SHAKIL KHATRI, MANAGING PARTNER, RAINBOW TEXTILES & NEEL BATIK
Mobile phones have made the next-gen ‘lazy’
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Artisan-led work is labour intensive. This often dissuades the digital native generation from taking up craft as a career. Many prefer to take up jobs in factories or as Uber drivers — work that pays them ₹15,000 - ₹20,000 a month, which doesn’t require them to work with their hands. 

“Mobile phones have badly impacted the next generation. Any craft needs hard work, you have to work the whole day, you can’t sit in one place and work. Kids today do not want to put in the effort; they would rather sit and work with a mobile in hand and get a salary.”

— SHAKIL KHATRI, MANAGING PARTNER, RAINBOW TEXTILES & NEEL BATIK
Lack of government support and resources
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Lack of government subsidies on wax, high costs of gas, unavailability of water owing to inadequate rainfall, and lack of access to wood owing to rampant tree cutting all contribute to artisans’ woes. 

“We use a lot of wax in our craft, the government used to give us a subsidy on wax, but they have stopped. Now we buy it at market price. We also need gas for the stove and prices are continuously increasing, but we have to buy at commercial rates. Also, water is an issue. Right now, rainfall was good in Kutch but it's usually a problem. On average, we consume 1,000 litres of water everyday. Without water, it won’t work. Even if it’s not a problem today, it will be 10 -15 years down the line. We need firewood for burning and boiling in processes. Since trees are being cut, there is a shortage of wood too. A few years ago, we used to pay ₹25 for 20kgs of wood. Now, it’s ₹100. It has increased 4x and will continue to increase. We have to find a solution.”

— SHAKIL KHATRI, MANAGING PARTNER, RAINBOW TEXTILES & NEEL BATIK
 
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SOLUTIONS

Institutions like the erstwhile Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya and present-day Somaiya Kala Vidya create an environment, curriculum and methodology designed for traditional artisans. 

They aim to provide knowledge and skills directly relevant to the artisan, enable market-appropriate innovation, while honouring and strengthening traditional craft forms. 
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“Even though I initially resisted my uncle’s suggestion that I join Kala Raksha — I didn’t think I had the capabilities or talent to learn from the calibre of teachers there — I’m happy I went. It was there that I recognised my own talent and potential; saw my gift for painting, and upon my teacher’s insistence, created the same painting in batik and was amazed at the beautiful outcome. Sometimes we don’t know what we are capable of until we are presented with an opportunity to find out.”

— SHAKIL KHATRI, MANAGING PARTNER, RAINBOW TEXTILES & NEEL BATIK
 
 
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DESIGN INNOVATION

New approach to design

Challenging the traditional and typical batik dots, geometry and floral patterns handed down over generations, Shakil has been creating new shapes and patterns through unique block designs, which has helped him create a niche for himself among a sea of batik printers. 

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PROCESS INNOVATION

Experimentation with natural dyes

Today, many batik printers work with chemical dyes. Shakil, on the other hand, is experimenting with natural dyes like indigo, pomegranate bark, onion peel skin, turmeric and even some local plants among other herb varieties. 

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“In the next 5 - 7 years, every customer from India or abroad will want natural dyes. I have my eye on that”.

— SHAKIL KHATRI, MANAGING PARTNER, RAINBOW TEXTILES & NEEL BATIK
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Use of new materials

After years of playing it safe with cotton textiles and handwoven textiles as the base, he has begun using chamois satin, Chanderi and even tussar silk for batik printing. 

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EXPERIMENTATION & REACH

Broadening horizons

The practice of batik is different in and unique to every region it exists. 

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“In Indonesia, a pen is used for painting. In Africa, a sponge is used to create patterns. Closer home, in Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh), bicycle spokes are used to dip and paint on fabrics. This work has no limitation. I have seen and learnt how batik is practised in different places around the world from Google and YouTube. These mediums are like Aladdin's lamp, where a genie asks you what it is that you want to see / learn!” 

— SHAKIL KHATRI, MANAGING PARTNER, RAINBOW TEXTILES & NEEL BATIK
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Use of social media to increase visibility and reach

Inspired by social media, Shakil has an Instagram account where he documents his experiments with new designs, natural dyes, and textures that inform his work. 

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“I have more than 1,000 followers, I get good comments, and people like it. When people meet me in person, they appreciate me and ask me where I click pictures, and I feel happy.”

— SHAKIL KHATRI, MANAGING PARTNER, RAINBOW TEXTILES & NEEL BATIK
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WAY FORWARD

Mutual respect between artisans and designers
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“The artisan is critical to the design process. Designers who give work to artisans can only take it forward once the product is ready. Given the current focus on the ‘trend’ of handmade, it’s all the more important to value and respect the artisan’s contribution to design and product development. But the artisans should also not allow their ego to come in the way; they should respect the designers and look for opportunities to learn and grow.”

— SHAKIL KHATRI, MANAGING PARTNER, RAINBOW TEXTILES & NEEL BATIK
Shift to modernising the craft or its application
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“A little shift from traditional designs and products to modern products should be made. Don’t forget the tradition, but find ways to modernise its expression keeping in mind the preferences of consumers today.”

— SHAKIL KHATRI, MANAGING PARTNER, RAINBOW TEXTILES & NEEL BATIK
Standardise quality
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“We should make an effort to produce high quality material consistently. The market value of a product will not decrease if we maintain consistent high quality. If a customer is happy with a product, there will always be demand for it because they will come back to buy again.” 

— SHAKIL KHATRI, MANAGING PARTNER, RAINBOW TEXTILES & NEEL BATIK
 

“It's not just about business for us, it's also about fulfilling a passion.”

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“In a 9-to-5 job, even if you work more hours, you will get the same salary. But if it is our own work, if we work 10 hours instead of 8, we will get more profit. If we increase production, it will increase our income. Our work is not just our business but also our passion — so, our mind and body are both engaged and happy. In a corporate job, we sometimes have to work even if we don’t want to. But, our craft work is our own, we provide employment to others, and it brings joy.”

— SHAKIL KHATRI, MANAGING PARTNER, RAINBOW TEXTILES & NEEL BATIK
 
PHOTOS & VIDEOS COURTESY SHAKIL KHATRI
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