Part 2: Training Lantana Artisans to be Market Ready

This is the second post of the Lantana series that documents the journey of CSEI’s Invasive Species Initiative so far. If you would like to collaborate with us, please reach out to the initiative lead, Sandeep: sandeep.hanchanale@atree.org.

Read Part 1: Connecting Lantana Craft to the Furniture Market.

To scale Lantana furniture, we need to blend traditional skills with new materials.

Once we learned that our artisans needed help with on-time delivery, standardisation and quality finish of their products, we brought in furniture designers from the urban decor company, The Purple Turtles. In Part 1 of this series, we wrote about how our hypothesis about market connect panned out.

These artisans needed to interact with furniture industry professionals who understand the market and the need for production value in furniture design. We hoped that these trainings would accomplish three things:

  • Expose our artisans to furniture industry standards.
  • Shift their thinking towards ergonomic design.
  • Inspire them to pay attention to detail.

When we approached The Purple Turtles, they were interested in using Lantana as a raw material in their products. The training was also an opportunity for them to give back to society by upskilling vulnerable tribal communities thereby improving their livelihood options.

The Purple Turtles apprenticeship trained 15 Lantana artisans for 45 days in September 2020.

The Purple Turtles Apprenticeship

During The Purple Turtles apprenticeship, 5 Lantana artisans from our Lantana Crafts Centre in MM Hills were trained for around 45 days. The first month of training was conducted in Bengaluru at The Purple Turtles warehouse in Whitefield. Following this, their designers travelled to MM hills to meet the community, understand their lifestyle and skill sets, before training them.

When the training began in MM hills, the artisan community was extremely excited. Having members of their community trained by designers from the city, gathered a lot of interest. And we ended up training 10 more artisans from the settlement!

All of these artisans love to improvise. They were thrilled to incorporate the design innovations suggested by the trainers. Beyond furniture design, the training also taught them related skills like frame making and welding. For communities in these forest belt, picking up a new skill opens up the possibility of starting their own enterprise.

A simple hack solved the problem of overuse of nails and poor quality finish.

During the training, it was noticed that the artisans were overusing nails to bind the Lantana sticks onto the frame of the lamp shade. Though the final product looked good, sharp nails protruded dangerously on its inner surface. The trainers learned from the artisans that as Lantana sticks get attached to the frame, there remains no room to maneuver inside the frame to file the rough edges.

The training taught artisans new product designs and inspired them to pay close attention to detail.

The simple hack that solved this problem was to divide the frame into parts and work on them separately before putting them together in the final stage.

Going through this process helped us understand the need for an inhouse designer who can co-create designs with other designers and spend time with the artisan community, training them. If you are a designer interested in this role, reach out to us at sandeep.hanchanale@atree.org.

As a result of the training, three improvements were noticed.

  • Artisans began to pay more attention to details.
  • They learned new product designs and additional skills like welding.
  • The furniture building process was streamlined, reducing both the time taken and cost.

Thanks to the pandemic, working from home has become the new norm. With that there has been an increase in demand for balcony furniture. We partnered with Archana Shetty of iObject to explore new designs for balcony furniture using mixed materials. We also collaborated with designer Radhika Kapoor, who reimagined our traditional designs like chairs and bookstands to reduce labour and transportation costs.

Learning to make gift baskets/plant holders from Lantana compliments their primary skill of running a nursery.

Towards the end of February 2021, we worked with The Association of People with Disabilities (APD) to train 10 young people with disabilities in Lantana craft for 10 days. Typically APD trains them in a life skill like running plant nurseries that they take back to their hometowns where they set up an enterprise. Learning how to make gift baskets and plant holders from Lantana was a complimentary skill that they could use in running a nursery. Read APD’s account of this training here.

We are currently training 10 women from Kaiyare to make lampshades from Lantana.

Kaiyare is an all-woman brand that trains women from Kabini, Karnataka to make baskets from banana fibre. Having heard of The Purple Turtles apprenticeship, they approached us to train their artisans. Lantana is spreading through Kabini as well. Kaiyare is keen to participate in the removal of this invasive weed. They wanted to train 10 of their women artisans for a month to make lampshades with Lantana. The artisans from The Purple Turtles apprenticeship have started training them last week (6 July 2021).

For Lantana furniture to be viable, we have

The furniture market seems to be leaning towards mixed material furniture where for instance, the legs and top of a table are made with different materials respectively.

Along with our partners, IPIRTI, we developed Lantana particleboards from Lantana chips.

Along with our partners Indian Plywood Industries Research & Training Institute (IPIRTI), we have developed Lantana particleboards and wood plastic composites that can be used in making mixed material furniture. To scale Lantana furniture, we need to blend traditional skills with new materials to create better looking furniture that’s easier to make. We are currently exploring how to make modular, knockdown furniture using Lantana.

From these workshops, we learned that although Lantana furniture provided livelihoods, it would be difficult to train enough artisans and create enough furniture to remove all the Lantana invading forests. But a bigger problem was that Lantana furniture uses only Lantana sticks, leaving 80% of the plant unused. If we wanted to achieve our target of removing 500,000 hectares of Lantana from Indian forests by 2030, we had to find a way to use Lantana at scale.

In the next blogpost of this series, we discuss how we plan to diversify.

Our work with Lantana crafts does not end. If you are a designer interested in working with new and sustainable materials like Lantana, we are looking to work with you. Reach out to Sandeep: sandeep.hanchanale@atree.org.

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We work on issues related to the environment and focus on citizen action and/or market-based approaches to solving these problems. Based in Bangalore, India. Find out more: https://www.csei.org/

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anjana balakrishnan

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