During the short flight from Dubai to Lahore last week, I read an article in The Guardian about an event Vogue Italia recently held at the Dubai Mall. The purpose was to bring some “creativity” to a city that counts itself as the second most popular place in the world to shop for fashion. I had to agree with the premise: for the vast selection the malls in Dubai have to offer, to me it all starts to look the same.
A few hours after stepping off the plane, I was in the middle of one of Lahore’s busiest
markets. It was loud and dirty but I would take this experience any day over the pristine shops in the malls of Dubai. There was a sense of excitement and wonder as I made my way through the stalls to meet Adeel, one of our local partners. He was taking me to visit the workshop where his team designed and produced some of the fabulous jewelry in The Shalimar Collection.
After finding Adeel, we began our adventure. It took about fifteen minutes to weave our way, on foot, through the narrow streets of the market. The roads were too narrow for cars but mopeds and rickshaws sped by us in a constant flow. We ducked through a low door and climbed about 50 stairs before reaching the room where the master oversees six of the artisans he has trained. Around the corner was the welding room where a single man sat steadfastly fusing, hammering and shaping the blank pieces of metal that would be transformed into necklaces, rings and bracelets. He has worked in this same shop for more than twenty years.
We began to climb the stairs again until we reached the roof. It is here in that they buff, polish and coat the metal. This, the only step necessarily involving chemicals, is done out in the open to protect the workers from the negative effects of working with the products. I paused for a moment to take in the view. Seven stories up from the chaos of the busy market below, it was quiet and peaceful with views of the entire city.
After making our way back down the stairs, we spent some time watching the artisans. Every step was done by hand, using the traditions passed down from generation to generation. The intricate filigree began to appear and hundreds of delicate crystals were painstakingly placed by hand.
When it was done, they handed me the finished product. I had a whole new appreciation for the simple jeweled bangle I held in my hand. From beginning to end it took about four hours to create. The practical part of me knew that something very similar could be made in minutes by a machine in a factory. In fact hundreds of thousands of the exact same bracelet could be produced each day for a fraction of the cost of the one I was holding.
I wondered to myself as I looked at the collection of traditionally inspired bangles, ring bracelets, midi rings, ear cuffs and statement necklaces we had commissioned -- does the average consumer care whether it was made by hand? After all, innovation and technology drive the growth of our economies. Industrialization improved the lives of people around the world forever. I am thankful for the household appliances that make my life easier on a daily basis, but I am equally grateful that when I shop, I have the luxury of choosing things that were made by hand. In and around Lahore there are close to 2,000 workshops similar to the one I visited. Each of these small businesses provides skilled training to workers and a meaningful salary that allows them to provide for their families.
When I wear my newest bangle, I am reminded of the choices I have and the impact of my decisions.
- Shannon Grewer