I caught up with Meeta Mastani, founder of Bindaas Unlimited, who creates beauty through connecting crafts and craftspeople. Her speciality - natural dyeing - using plants, leaves, roots and lots more plant based goodness. For my latest collection, I am going to be getting an exclusive range of playsuits made from these beautiful materials. I wanted to find out more about Meeta, and her inspiring work.
What made you choose this career path? How did you get interested in it?
It all began in 1989. I knew I didn’t want a regular city job, and I wanted to meet different kinds of people. That’s what pushed me in this kind of direction. My interest came from working with people. The natural dyes were an option and I was happy to take that. I soon began working with the NGO Dastkar - a society for crafts and craftspeople. I did that for five years and then I started my own thing with friends. That was the beginning of Bindaas Unlimited.
How did you learn your skills?
My teachers of natural dyeing have always been the artisans. The folk artists that I work with, they have been my university. At my formal university I studied business organisation. My job at the NGO was initially to help craft groups work together and to get all their systems in order. I started with that and went onto to the design and development of my own company.
What do you think the future is for traditional crafts in India?
I don’t see the younger lot very interested in making craft. So that is a challenge. I think it will move to high end stuff like everywhere else in the world. We have a period now where you can get good quality stuff for not crazy prices, however, I don’t think that is going to last for long. I consciously keep my prices very affordable. I’ve always had the option to make things more expensive and doing less work, but rather than do that I have very consciously kept it cheap, or at least affordable. That has been a very conscious decision because I would want people to have access to beauty and to provide more employment. And to have handmade things rather than cheap fast fashion.
Do environmental concerns play a big part in your life and career?
They do. I still have things I made 25 years ago and I still wear them. They don’t look like they did 25 years back but they look good in a different way. I am in a funny position because I believe we should reuse what already exists, yet I am still making new stuff. So it is a strange position to be in. However, I am happy because what I make can be used over a long time, and you don’t have to buy millions of them. You can buy a little and enjoy it over a long time. The colour is constantly changing, it goes from green to blue and looks good in every phase.
What sort of ingredients do you use to dye the materials?
We work with nearly all natural ingredients to create our dye matter. We work with a lot of leaves, plants, flowers and roots such as jaggery, madder root and pomegranate. These materials and natural dyes can go back into the earth and not hurt the soil. The ferrous sulfate that would be used for the dye, this is good for the plants and can actually help the plants to grow and flower.
However, we still face some obstacles. For example the mordants we use are not always very good for the earth, such as alum. And we use a lot of water in natural dyeing which is a concern. This is something we are constantly working on.
Can you see India being a country which is making many steps towards helping crafts people such as yourself? Is the government doing much in that sense?
No! The Indian government is busy. They claim to be working on ‘making India’, but actually what we already make traditionally - they are killing all those avenues and making small producers irrelevant. Unfortunately our government is working in the opposite direction. They are encouraging the big guys. They want factories, they want big names. They don’t want small crafts people. They want big centres, they want people to work for other people. They don’t want small entrepreneurs. They are not helping people like us, only hurting. It is really sad because we have been a country of small entrepreneurs. And the government is killing it very consciously.
What is your favourite thing about what you do?
I like the people I work with and the lifestyle I live. The weeks I stay with the artisans, I live with them and craftspeople in Rajasthan, away from the craziness of city life. There is a different way of being culturally there and a different way of living which I enjoy. I like being out of context in their space. So I don’t have to follow their rules or the rules of my society. I can be outside both of those. It’s like you when you are in India right? You are outside of your context. So you don’t have to follow your rules and you don’t have to follow their rules.
Have you got any exciting events coming up or projects?
I will be trading at The international Santa Fe Folk art market on July 10th/11th/12th. We always do new wooden block prints connected with the city. It’s fun to see new cultures and the similarities and the differences. We are also going to be at The Selvedge Fair in London, which is happening in September.