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12 lessons from the road

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India can be overwhelming to say the least. Having travelled here, mostly alone, for the past year, it is a revelation and a milestone to be traveling here with colleagues who have only read and heard about all the people we work with, and never witnessed the magic of blockprinting nor seen the beautiful chaos of this country.

Here are a few takeaways from multiple conversations in the car, over chai and dhal, and standing over long tables to the regular thump of blocks hitting fabric in the workshop. 

1. Contrary to popular belief, there are no cows on the street in Delhi. At least very few. But there are camels and cows in Jaipur. 

2. Blockprinting is really, really hard work that’s not just repetitive. Translating an artwork from conception to digital file to actual blockprint is more complicated than it seems. It requires intelligence, geometrical alignment, and planning. 

3. Horning is acceptable. It’s not considered rude. Everywhere. 

4. Everyone has an opinion about everything. People strike up conversation anywhere, anyhow. Even with so many differences between them in culture, language, religion and geography, Indians bond as citizens of the same country, which is a nationalist feat. Trains are the best place to discuss politics.

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5. There’s something that connects everyone who works at MATTER, whether its the artisan partners we work with or team members across borders. It does not feel like we are meeting for the first time. An instant connection forged by aligned values and the same passion for choosing what you love and a respectful appreciation for unseen value. 

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6. Transparency and provenance is what inspires people. Somehow, knowing the source of an object, its story, and the hands that make it, grounds us in a world of increasing rootlessness. 

7. Personal relationships in the artisan supply chain are vital to developing long term partnerships and an ecosystem of transparency. Intuition wins any day on evaluating whether someone makes a good partner.

8. There is organisation amidst apparent massive chaos. There are communities existing in a web of an unseen order.

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9. Motivating and retaining your most valued employees is a universal challenge, whether you’re a blockprinter artisan or an investment banker.

10. True sustainability in this industry is about raising the cultural and heritage value (and thus economic worth) of artisanship in this part of the world. So that blockprinters do not have to leave their roles because no one wants to marry their daughters into this hard life.

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11. We could all be vegetarian if there were this many options as in the Indian cuisine here. Plus, eating in an Indian home beats the fanciest restaurant food any food.

12. Regardless of whom you meet, big or small, what connects people is discovering their intrinsic, heartfelt motivations. Why they started something in the simple origins of their journey.