Craftsmanship is the essence of GAN. That is why, from the beginning, GAN has focused on the reinterpretation of traditional techniques and their application to contemporary designs, hand in hand with the best designers of the moment. Over the years and following this premise, GAN has established a production system which, while preserving tradition, renews craftsmanship thanks to its connection with contemporary design. In this way, the artisan practice evolves and the design expands its horizons.
GAN Women’s Unit is based on this fruitful link between design and craftsmanship, however, it has gone a step further. The group is made up of women who live in rural India, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, and who work together with GAN in the artisanal manufacture of many of their collections. GAN Women’s Unit responds to the brand’s desire to promote mutual cultural enrichment that at the same time offers economic autonomy to the women of this area. The goal is clear: help them achieve independence and decision-making power through stable and well-paid work.
Design, in this case, strives to create a fairer labor framework, adapting it to the needs and circumstances of those who are part of it. The GAN team, which is mostly female and is run by women, places its trust in a country with great craftsmanship tradition and in women as the engine behind entrepreneurial initiatives.
GAN Women’s Unit was born in 2010, when development for the BANDAS collection had just begun, led by renowned designer Patricia Urquiola. At that time, Mapi Millet, director of GAN, learned of a group of women who had lost their jobs after the local workshops that employed them had shut down. She had been thinking for some time about how to support a community that has contributed so much to the growth of GAN, and she knew that she wanted to do it through women, so it was clear that this was the perfect opportunity. She brought to Urquiola her idea of collaborating with this group of women in the manufacture of her new BANDAS collection, and the popular designer accepted enthusiastically. Between the two of them, they looked for a way of adapting the design to the skills of the artisans, to achieve a unique and innovative product, and the idea of embroidered rugs arose.
Getting started took time. The BANDAS collection has had the longest development process in the history of GAN: it took four years for it to see the light. There were many things to learn, to adjust, to change…etc. Urquiola adapted her design to allow women to reconcile their work life with their family obligations. The pieces had to be rolled up easily and allow the women to work on them while sitting down, with their work on their laps, so each could not be more than 60cm (24”) wide. But what at first seemed like a limitation ended up becoming a possibility: this is how the idea of modular rugs was born, which has made of BANDAS a complete success.
The close relationship and professional attunement between GAN’s Director Mapi Millet and the prestigious designer Patricia Urquiola, united them at the very beginnings of the GAN Women’s Unit project. Concepts such as innovative design, manual work, the recovery of traditional techniques and the empowerment of women are principles that both defend and believe in.
The evolution of craft
The resounding success of BANDAS encouraged GAN to continue using these women’s skills in its products, and thus increase the number of women who benefit from this project.
The embroidery technique has become the protagonist and is a valuable tool of the program, however other techniques such as crochet and needlepoint have been added to the repertoire. GAN collections thus benefit from the traditional knowledge of these artisans, who, in return, receive a fair wage and learn to work in structured environments.
GAN Women’s Unit has a meeting point in the Bhadohi area, in Uttar Pradesh, coordinated by a female workshop leader experienced in different techniques. She is a key figure in the entire process, responsible for instructing and supervising the group of women in adapting designs for their execution. It is a laborious process that involves learning to change scale and materials, adjusting designs to the different patterns and tools, applying existing knowledge to the product requirements, quality control, etc. It is an initiative that provides methodology and new learnings for both parties, opening up new opportunities.
Almost a decade ago, GAN began this empowerment project in which already more than thirty women are active participants. The project has become a source of satisfaction and pride for GAN and the designers involved. After Urquiola, numerous designers have joined the project: Claire Anne O’Brien with her KNITTED STOOLS, Sandra Figuerola with RUSTIC CHIC and Neri&Hu with their recent LAN collection. Also in process is a new collection by the young and talented tandem formed by Yael Mer and Shay Alkalay of the Raw&Edges studio. They are all very diverse authors, but they all have in common a passion for handmade objects, a restless desire to research new techniques and to experiment, broadening the limits of their creations.