Move away from mass-produced plastic ornaments to support artisan Christmas decorations that are unique, thoughtful and eco-friendly
Shafi Arts in Srinagar may be an unexpected outpost for Santa, but 61-year-old Mohammed Shafi Bhat and his family have been shipping their intricate papier-mâché bells, baubles and stars across the world for years. “The US, UK, Singapore, Spain…” lists Suhail, one of Mohammed’s three sons, as his brothers wind up work on the last batches: the bulk of their orders is completed and dispatched by September. “Orders come in as early as March,” he says over a video call, picking his way through the boutique.
Familiar faces, with new designs
Apart from the traditional motifs, there are new designs: Santa is wearing a mask this year, of course. They also make Santa on a shikara and miniature elephants in pastel hues, which are light and compact so they can be hung from boughs of trees between tinsel and strings of lights.
“We have seen a 70% increase in orders this year after a lull,” Suhail says adding that they made lakhs of baubles this year. One of the reasons he believes is buyers want to help out as the pandemic has been tough on many businesses, including artisans. “As artisanal goods are handmade, as opposed to plastic items; there is a lot of time, effort and a personal touch that goes into them.”
“These products cannot be compared to mass produced plastic ones that are an environmental hazard,” says Sunil Jalihal, founder and CEO of Pune-based Indic Inspirations, who stocks creations by Shafi Arts along with those of 400 artisans from around the country.
Stating that they can be reused year after year, instead of being disposed annually and adding to landfills, he says, “When shipments from China stalled, it gave people an opportunity to look for other resources. It led them to becoming conscious about not wanting plastic.” Indic Inspirations has seen a 20% increase in demand for handmade Christmas decor this year, he adds.
At Okhai in Ahmedabad, artisans, primarily of the Rabari tribe in Gujarat, surf the Internet to keep up with annual trends. “They are on Pinterest and Instagram, and are aware of how Christmas trees are decorated world over,” says Manorath Dhillon who heads the organisation, “From mirror work to tattoos and tassels, they give inputs on what needs to be added to an ornament.”
Aged between 21 and 55, the creators are excited to be part of the celebrations as they leave their mark in the form of sustainable trinkets. “Most tree ornaments here are made out of scrap fabric. There are disco balls, hoops that read Holly Jolly X’Mas, stars, and heart-shaped ornaments in cottons, silks and block-printed fabrics,” she says. Other items include handwoven boxes made of recycled cotton ropes, acacia wood ornaments with Pattachitra painting by master craftsmen from Odisha and candle holders with Santa’s face, made by potters in Rajasthan.
“When the pandemic started, people finally had the time to pause and think about what they were creating and what they were consuming. Now we see they are a lot more forthcoming when it comes to buying handmade things even if it is a little expensive,” says Manorath.
Okhai’s Christmas decor manufacturing has gone up by 70% this year in comparison to last year.
Snowflake and veggies
From reindeer and snowflakes to carols and pine trees, inspiration is flowing in from various quarters. For Karthik Vaidyanathan who started Varnam (a social enterprise that revived the Channapatna toy craft) in Bengaluru in 2012, fruits and veggies served as his muse this year. Glossy oranges, bananas, capsicums, chillies, tomatoes, mushrooms and carrots hang from his tree. They look edible: but are made of wood and natural dyes like turmeric, kumkum, and indigo.
“People are looking for fun ornaments and something different to put up or use as a stocking stuffer or a Secret Santa gift. Plus, this is also a great way of making kids eat vegetables,” says Karthik. The Varnam Christmas collection comprises kuruvi bells, Santa jars, pig-shaped bells, wobbly snowmen, bobble head reindeer, and even bar accessories like bottle openers… Everything is made by a team of 15 skilled craftspersons in Channapatna, Karnataka.
Varnam has made 500 ornaments in total this year. Karthik gets the bulk of his orders from Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, and also exported to the UK and Australia last year.
Artisan empowering organisations such as Runway India in Nagaland and Indian Yards in the Nilgiris have launched new lines that comprise hampers with functional gifts like reindeer-inspired serving trays, wreaths made with natural vines, wooden pine cones and macramé angels.
Chennai’s Cane and Bamboo, which has been showcasing artisanal products for the last five decades, has hand-drawn kalamkari ornaments made by crafters from Andhra Pradesh this year. “This is the first time we have seen them think out of the box and try something new. There are stars, banners, and trees in earthy tones. They look beautiful,” says Thangam Phillip of Cane and Bamboo. Dropping sales, she says, has led artisans to experiment with different styles. The store also has linen angels, fabric-based and, papier-mâché ornaments.
Single entrepreneur ventures too are adding their creativity to the Christmas market. Sahana V, 30, who lives in the Nilgiris, launched The Berry Shop two years ago, as an extension of her love for embroidery. “Last year I began creating Christmas themed ornaments and hair accessories,” says Sahana who makes a variety of hand-embroidered products and hoop art depicting Santa’s hat, Christmas tree, snowflakes, and pet portraits. “This year I introduced tree ornaments made of felt. Both the hoop and felt decoratives have been of interest to collectors,” she states, adding, “I see a huge appreciation for handmade gifts now.”
With COVID-19 and lockdowns keeping friends and families apart, people are seeking gifts with a personal touch. So, even if they cannot be together with their loved ones for the festival, they can at least send over presents hand made with love.
And some more ideas…
I ate Santa
Undeniably, a majority of Christmas decorations look good enough to be eaten. This time Cheers Chocolates from Chennai, lets you hang a bauble and eat it too. The edible collection has decadent looking stars, Santa Claus, and bells.
“They are made with pure couverture Belgian chocolates,” says Keshav Krishna who started the brand in 2012. Among the new additions is a box of gleaming red balls, made of chocolate. Drop it into a mug of hot milk and as it melts marshmallows float to the surface. Stir it, and you have yourself a serving of hot chocolate.
Secret Santa ideas
‘Tis the season when many institutions, groups and friends start playing Secret Santa or are at their philanthropic best. Options are aplenty and cater to budgets from ₹90 to ₹5,000 and upwards. Chennai-based Opus Bliz presents wooden blocks and wall hangings in colours of the season with customised names and messages.
Hyderabad’s Kriti Kala has fabric buntings, aprons, oven gloves; Seethu Kurien from Kerala is excited about creating wooden nativity sets this year; Palmera Brushes has Christmas trees made of natural coir and in small sizes for compact homes; Art Adorable takes pride in its gnomes, baubles, bells and holly, handpainted on slices of wood — what stands out is the use of Gond art and Dot Art patterns.
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