Unfactory — the very name stands for anything that is not mass-produced.
It was co-founded by a like-minded team who were clear about what they did not want to do. They didn’t want the stuff of chiché. They wanted the stuff of niche.
Unfactory thus became a hub of artisans with a love for the handcrafted.
“It was started in June 2016, in Bengaluru. People looked for aesthetic designer products but found them expensive. The purpose of starting Unfactory is to make these designer-made products accessible and affordable to people. We saw this fundamental gap where traditional crafts were not popular in the market. We are working with artists who in turn work with artists who practice traditional craft, and give art a contemporary context,” says Anupama Bharadwaj, the founder.
Anupama started her career in advertising and moved to marketing; she always wished to create a market for independent artists.
It was during her maternity break that she decided to give vent to her wish.
Ashok Neelkanta, her husband, also with an experience in marketing, joined hands. Merissa, the co-founder, joined them in identifying artists.
They have two more people on the team — Sachin, leading operations, and Shruthi, from a technical background. The entire team brings different skills to the table.
When they moved for field work, they watched artists with different talents and collaborated with them. And the purpose dawned upon them.
“We have artists who make products using discarded tyre tubes, fabrics, aluminium, and wood waste. They give alternatives to plastics, making straws, tongue-cleaners, tooth brushes out of bamboo. We have artists working with ancient weaves like ilkal, ikat, dokra, filigree etc, making something contemporary out of it. One of the artists, near Dharwad, who works with ilkal, makes palazzos, which gives the entire weaver community a means of earning. Apart from this, we also work with self-help groups, women entrepreneurs, who in turn work with rural women of Karnataka, to generate income for them. Some artists make alternatives for making paper using any fibre-like cotton or areca nut,” shares Anupama.
About curation, she says, “We travelled to Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Chennai and Mysuru to meet artists. We saw different kinds of free markets and got them on board. Today, we work with 160 artists across India, of which 45-50 are from Karnataka. So, Unfactory has an artist-centric approach,” says Anupama.
Unfactory works with urban designers, who collaborate with rural artisans and self-help groups.
Nikitha Sathish, an artist who started Dori five years ago, shares her experience working with rural artisans.
Born in Dharwad, she worked for an ethnic brand after a course in fashion designing. “But I didn’t have much knowledge about Indian textiles. So, I wanted to explore that, and I started in Dharwad, famous for ilkal weaving. I went to the weaving village Ameengad in Bagalkot district to meet a cluster of weavers. During my first visit, I saw the weaving, saw the fabric, and I realised this is what I want to do. All the weavers are between 45-50 years, and the next generation is not ready to take it up because they are moving away from the village. I thought I should make a difference in the lives of these people,” recalls Nikitha.
About kasuthi, the intricate embroidery she uses in her works, she says, “Earlier, kasuthi was a hobby. I contacted an NGO that employs these women and teaches them the art. I started working with them. Some of my collections have embroidery depending on the design. The focus is to reintroduce traditional fabric to youngsters.”
Sanchali, started by artist Daksha in 2008, is also onboard with Unfactory. “The reason I started working with the women self-help groups from Gaupalli village was to make Sanchali a self-sustaining project. I started training these women in making jewellery out of textile, old brocades and leftovers from tailors. In the beginning, it was difficult because most of those women worked in the fields. I had to start from teaching them how to insert the thread into the eye of the needle, but now, they are so self-sufficient that they can design and finish the order, and ship it to places, all while co-ordinating with the other teams,” she says.
Padma, an artisan from a village near Kolar, shares her experience working with Sanchali. “In the beginning, I was hesitant, wondered how to go about the designs. Now I am comfortable and confident as well, as she has trained me in this skill. She has even showed us the way for our livelihood.”