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Meraki founder Yosha Gupta has always been passionate about Indian folk art. In fact, she has over the years gotten her clothing, jewelry and handbags painted with varying Indian art forms by traditional artisans. So much so that people, usually women, would regularly stop her on the street to enquire about her decorated handbag, specifically the painted Madhubani design, an Indian art form characterized by eye-catching geometrical patterns. Soon fielding a barrage of requests for painted handbags, the fintech entrepreneur (she is the founder of Lafalafa, which was funded by 500 Startups) saw an opportunity to help revive (and keep safe) a beautiful tradition, help Indian women artisans find financial independence and offer the global community a piece of her culture. Feeling she was on to something special, Gupta turned her ardor for folk art into a thriving sustainable business.
Meraki is an artisanal line of bespoke leather handbags that have been individually painted by a group of supremely talented artists from all over India. Gupta’s first collection, which debuted last September, included 40 curated leather handbags that sold out in days with no marketing whatsoever. Drawing heavy inspiration from her mother, an artist herself, Meraki works with master artists devoted to their speciality in their respective art form. Quite apropos, since Meraki means ‘to do something with passion, with absolute devotion, with undivided attention’ in Greek.
Women Power: Who Rules The World?
While many folk art forms are dominated by men, the Madhubani style (like the painting on Gupta’s statement bag pictured above) happens to be completely reigned by women. Passed down through generations of feminine dexterity, the paintings of these artisans are an expression of the triumphs, sorrows, and stories of women from the village of Madhubani in Bihar, the Indian state nestled on the country’s Nepal adjacent border. “It’s very standard for women in these villages to be running households and working on farms without not being paid anything,” explains Gupta. “It’s quite liberating for them to be able to earn something and be a little independent and economically empowered while still managing their household! This is why I find this art form close to my heart.”
Wishing to make a bigger impact, Meraki has launched a crowdfunding campaign through Hong Kong-based women-forward funding platform Next Chapter to help build a proper school in a village in Bihar. Opened by local non-profit organization, Madhubani Apper in order to teach young girls the traditional art form of Madhubani, the structure is made of mud. Washed over during the rainy season each year, the school gets disrupted for up to four months in order to get repaired. Teaming up with Next Chapter, which focuses on female entrepreneurs and women-led business, Gupta is ecstatic about the sense of community: “This project just feels right,” confides Gupta. “I love that it’s a lot of women coming together and making each other stronger.”
Upcycling: Salvage That Shoulder Bag
Gupta encourages patrons to give their past purses a new lease on life. “I love the idea of upcycling bags because it fits with the ethos of what I’m trying to do,” enthuses the Hong Kong resident. “How many women out there have stopped using their bags because they’re bored or there’s a stain on it?” Post-painting, Gupta’s own statement Gucci tote is now a one-of-a-kind, handmade accessory with a beautiful story embedded into it. From the unique stories to the craftsmanship of each bag, it goes beyond upcycling though. When you purchase from these artists, you are buying a piece of their heart, a moment of their life that is displayed on their artwork. For those looking to repurpose their former leather goods, customization takes around 1-2 months.
Customize It Eco Leather Collection
Gupta is especially proud of Meraki’s eco leather collection. Sourced from a tannery in India that is renowned for using hide that comes from cows that die a natural death, the leather is then treated with natural colors, instead of the lead-based chromium variety. Since no artificial dyes are used during the process, there are limited bag color options. The leather, like any biological raw material, will age naturally over time and reveal its charm and identity.
Looking to the future, Gupta hopes to see folk art transcend across all mediums. “Art culture and the classical art forms are more important today than ever before,” says Gupta. “The kind of cultural dialogue and cultural empathy it creates is unlike anything else.” The next collection from Meraki will feature a contemporary twist using photography and painting. Touched from the heart, soul, and hands of these artists, patrons of Meraki will carry on the legacy as one their storytellers.
Meraki will be crowdfunding on Next Chapter until the end of July 2017. To customize your own handbags, email firstname.lastname@example.org for inquiries. To shop online, click here. Prices start at HKD 1,168.
All images courtesy of Meraki.