© Emily Lush 2015

Natural Dyes with Aranya Bangladesh at the Asia Fair Trade Summit

I don’t often post about work-related topics on this blog – but every now and then, my two worlds collide. Last week I was lucky enough to travel to Nakorn Pathom Province in Thailand for the 2016 Asia Fair Trade Summit. Although I was technically there as a volunteer and spent most of the three days skipping around like a madwoman (as anyone involved in running a large-scale event seems to do), I also had a chance to take some time out and participate in a natural dyes workshop with the incredibly talented ladies from Aranya. I didn’t get many photos from the workshop, but I wanted to share the few I snapped along with some information about Aranya and a short reflection on the Fair Trade Summit.

After 10 months volunteering for the World Fair Trade Organization, Asia, I consider myself to be more familiar with the region’s handicraft sector than most. In all that time – through all those hours of research and pouring over websites and social media accounts – few organisations stood out to me in the way Aranya did. A self-sufficient, women-led enterprise based in Dhaka, Aranya is pioneering the revival of natural fabric dyes in Bangladesh. The company has its roots in scientific research and development, and has successfully recreated 30 dyes using plants, flowers and other local, organic materials. Ruby Ghuznavi, Aranya’s founder, saw the potential for her company to enter the fashion industry, and Aranya has since made a name for itself as a boutique label.

Natural dyes were successfully revived from the brink of extinction in Bangladesh during the 80’s. A traditional craft heritage, not only do organic dyes utilize indigenous raw materials but also offer greater employment and livelihood opportunities for the craftspeople of this country.

Unsurprisingly, a huge part of Aranya’s work is teaching natural dye techniques. Ruby has staged workshops for artisans across Bangladesh as well as in Bhutan, Turkey and Nepal – and as of this week, at Sampran Riverside in Nakorn Pathom, the venue for the 2016 Asia Fair Trade Summit. Dyes made from indigo, onion-skin and mango wood were all prepared fresh at the venue for participants. The best thing about the workshop was designing the patterns with improvised materials such as rubber bands, string and bottle caps. Although my designs didn’t come out quite as I had hoped, seeing just how easy (and satisfying) the whole process is has made me realise that natural dyes can be viable as an eco-friendly alternative to synthetics.

Ruby and her colleagues Rina Akter, Master Dyer, and Nawshin Khair, Aranya’s Creative Director, were just a few of the inspiring craftspeople and social entrepreneurs I got to meet at the Summit. I was overwhelmed by everyone’s genuine warmth and hospitality – not to mention the passion for fair trade and the awesome sense of community the Summit cultivated. I look forward to visiting some of the members I met at their studios and shops in the (hopefully near) future. Until then, here are just a few of the beautiful textiles that participants made…

© Emily Lush 2015
UPDATE: The team at WFTO-Asia kindly offered to re-shape this blog post to use on their website and e-newsletter. You can read the news entry here.

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