This young designer is harnessing craft for community based environmental & cultural conservation.
Namrata Tiwari is a multi-disciplinary designer and social entrepreneur, currently with one foot in Assam and another in Arunachal Pradesh. She is also the founder of ‘Its all Folk’ a social innovation and artisanal enterprise working in Arunachal Pradesh, India. Her practice covers a wide range of paths from textile, fashion, human-centered design to social entrepreneurship. She has consciously shifted from fashion to social design over the course of her 10-year career as her understanding of intersectionality evolved.
Early in her career, Namrata realised that the fashion industry has an equity and sustainability problem! Subsequently, she left her job in fashion at the age of twenty-six and moved to work in Shillong, a city in Meghalaya in Northeast India. She spent the formative years of her design career, thereafter working with indigenous craft communities across Northeast India through government and non-government organisations like Impulse NGO networks, IIE Guwahati, Craftmark India, and All India Artisans and Craft Workers Welfare Association (AIACA) India. During her time working across the region, she started Its all folk as a photo archiving project which has since remained a vehicle of inquiry, advocacy, and social change for her. Between 2018-2020, she lived in France where she studied design for social impact and investigated the role of traditional craftsmanship in refugee integration and social cohesion as her Master thesis.
Later she worked as a Social Innovation Designer at the Lyon based organisation Weavers (then called Tissue Solidaire) where she designed community engagement pedagogy and workshops to facilitate social cohesion and cultural dialogues between exiled and host communities. Harnessing traditional craftsmanship as a social change tool has thus remained central to her work, and given Namrata her raison d’être. (reason for being)
Despite leaving the fashion industry early on in her career, Namrata always had several bones to pick with how the fashion industrial complex functions. Over the years she has come to discern how the fashion industry generates enormous economic value. However, the farmers and producers who generate this value continue to struggle for sustenance and remain amongst the poorest in the supply value chain. From the fibers that come from the farms to the processing and manufacturing of yarn, fabric and apparel; global fashion industry is heavily dependent on producers in the global south. However, the industry largely controlled by the global north fails to prioritise sustainability efforts to meet the basic needs of the poor producers in the global south. Moreover, the fashion industry often equates sustainability with only the environmental footprint of the fibers, overriding the impact certain fibers can have on the ability of the small producers in the global south to meet their socio-economic and cultural needs. Farmed fibers provide cash crops to indigenous communities where other livelihood alternatives do not exist. Such one-sided narratives not only deprive small producers of their livelihoods but also hamper their capacity to practice their traditional way of living and manifest their indigenous identities.
The global fashion industry is currently obsessed with creating new carbon-neutral tech materials.
"However, I strongly believe the future of fashion does not lie in inventing new materials but investing in poor producer communities who struggle for sustenance in spite of producing maximum yield with minimum environmental impact. The industry is uniquely positioned to catalyse positive social, economic and environmental impact by creating livelihood opportunities from farm to closet that aligns production and consumption within the planetary boundaries." - Namrata
The industry can make a real impact in reducing global poverty by providing food security through livelihood generation for millions of global poor across its supply value chain. There is a need to reimagine fashion industry that empowers producers, values artisanal craftsmanship, validates indigenous knowledge of natural fibers and regenerative land use contributing towards an holistic approach to sustainability that reduces poverty and replenishes the planet. To achieve this, the industry needs to invest in indigenous artisans and farmers engaged in traditional methods of farming, animal grazing and fabric making that are inherently low input, extensive, and require the least fossil fuel energy. Moreover, these traditional practices support the continuity of ancient indigenous cultures and wisdom that hold tremendous relevance in solving global environmental issues. Owing to their close proximity to their environments indigenous people protect 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity and are best equipped to co-find solutions for environmental changes around them for their communities.
Through her work, Namrata wants to continue amplifying sustainability efforts in fashion and design that prioritise meeting the needs of the global poor with a focus on resource stewardship and shared economies. She reinitiated Its all folk as a social innovation and artisanal enterprise in 2021 to further this objective. They are currently piloting in the Eastern Himalayas of Western Arunachal Pradesh, India. Their vision is to create place-based craft economies that support place-based ecologies and identities. Their mission is to harness traditional craft as a tool to incentivise community-based environmental and cultural conservation. The long term goal is to reduce the communities' dependency on environmentally exploitative practices for economic gains. They are working to incentivise the use of yak fibre, and valorise the heritage loin loom weaving to create low carbon, forest friendly artisanal products that enhance income opportunities for small weavers and herders in West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh.
They are currently incubating the enterprise at IIM Bangalore’s NSRCEL. They were the recipient of ‘People’s Choice Award’ at the UN SDSN Youth Solutions - Innovation Readiness Program 2022 and a finalist at the Center for Sustainable Fashion’s - Fashion Values Challenge 2021-22. Its all folk is also part of a three-year multi-stakeholder project ‘Reviving Trans Himalayan Rangelands: A community led vision for people and nature.’ The project is a recipient of the prestigious Darwin Initiative Biodiversity Grant, UK where they will be working towards advancing livelihoods in the Eastern Himalayas in partnership with WWF India, WAL. (Western Arunachal Landscape)
Namrata did her Bachelors in Clothing and Textiles from Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara (2006-09) followed by a Master in Apparel Design and Merchandising from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad (2009-12). She pursued another Masters in Design for Social Impact from Paris College of Art, France (2018-19). She was a Professional Fellow with ‘Build a NEST, New York (2021-22), Climate Asia Ambassador (2022) and a UN SDSN Youth (2022) amongst a cohort of 50 global change-makers working towards advancing sustainable development goals through her work.
You can find her work and connect with her here: