In a lifetime, we come across some people who confirm that identity is a state of mind. That’s exactly what came to my mind when I came across Chamar Studio, artist and founder, Sudheer Rajbhar’s initiative that runs from his personal studio in Kandivali. The studio was born in January last year on Guru Ravidas Jayanti. Rajbhar works from his personal studio in Kandivali, but Chamar Studio can be anywhere in Mumbai. “A cobbler sitting at the railway platform can also work from there and that’s also a face of Chamar Studio. That is the idea of Chamar Studio. It can be anywhere and everywhere and it’s for everyone”, he says.

Speaking of Dalit identity and the connotations associated with the term, Chamar, as per definition is one of the communities in India, categorised as Scheduled Caste. Says Sudheer Rajbhar, “Chamars by profession are leather makers. Reutilising the skills and the experience these craftsmen gained during their life, the Chamar brand employs leather workers from the community to produce handmade bags and other accessories in different materials, including leather, cotton, latex and recycled materials. On spreading the word and letting masses know about the initiative Rajbhar says, “ By supporting this community economically and giving them visibility will be the first significant step towards starting a dialogue around the situations and issues faced by this community.”

Rajbhar, 32, studied drawing and painting at Vasai Vikasini College in Thane. He grew up in the slums in Kandivali and that’s why he is closely connected to the community he grew up with, witnessing their day-to-day struggles. He once met a cobbler and street sweeper who was quite intrigued by Rajbhar’s initiative. That made Rajbhar realise that this thought needs more clarity and to bring this idea to life, he started collaborating with cobblers, who stitched together black rubber bags to keep smartphones that document their daily life in the city where life is all about work.

Rajbhar who is currently looking for collaborations with established artists /designers and Chamar Studio artisans to create a project that includes a batch of 100 bags for auctioning at the Chamar Foundation which will be held in Bengaluru, says, “Chamar studio is open to collaboration for everyone, so whosoever is willing to help us for the greater cause is welcome to participate.

Chamar Studio’s debut collection, Bombay Black has a minimalist line of handbags, belts, wallets, crafted using recycled rubber tyre sheets. “The inspiration came from Bombay. When you look at Bombay from the top, it’s always covered in black colour, which is actually plastic sheets, so I decided to make my own dark home inspired by the same concept. I considered rubber, which is also black in colour, and less harmful than plastic. I started recreating them as plastic bags with the help of a few cobblers”, says Rajbhar.

“The first reaction to this whole project was of amusement, mainly around the name of the studio. Thereafter, the simplicity of the design element given to the bags. There were many positive reactions to the brand as it had varied inputs of making use of the materials that are discarded in daily life in terms of purpose. It also helped the artisans coming from the community to showcase their creativity and playing a small role in saving the environment”, he adds.

For his next collection, he would like to collaborate with the cobblers and shoe-shiners who sit at the railway platform from Virar to Churchgate so that they can earn something more than their normal income. Rajbhar chose the colour blue as per the uniform of the cobblers. He shares, “I would like to include the bags in the same colour as their uniform that is blue. This will also help them to use their skills further and make a better living. In future, we are also introducing bio-composite material made from entirely organic and sustainable bacterial cellulose, grown by agricultural waste.”

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First Published: Feb 09, 2019 15:56 IST


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