It was the artisans of Katalamara, Shankhela, village in the northeastern state of Tripura, who first introduced Bangalore-based designer Sandeep Sangaru to bamboo at the Bamboo and Cane Development Institute in Agartala.
“In 2003, while I was a faculty member at the National Institute of Design (NID), I was sent to Tripura as part of a programme to expose local artisans to contemporary designs and products to help them cope with present day markets. It was a programme designed by the NID and I spent about six weeks there,” recalls Sangaru.
While the designer introduced the artisans to contemporary designs, they opened up the world of bamboo to him. “Until then, I was an industrial designer and had worked mainly on production design in movies, using metal and wood,” he says.
Sangaru realised that people in the northeast used bamboo to make just about anything. “It is such a simple material but can be used in so many different ways,” he adds. While working with the artisans, the designer got first-hand experience working on bamboo. Impressed by the material, he began working on designs that later became part of his now widely acclaimed Truss Me collection. Launched in 2010, the “handcrafted and sustainable collection” includes chairs, bookcases and a kids collection.
In 2004, Sangaru left NID to set up his own venture. He travelled across Kashmir, Rajasthan and Karnataka to work with local craftsmen. “Although I worked with various materials during this period, I decided to return to bamboo. As opposed to wood — such as that of the walnut tree used in Kashmir — bamboo is more sustainable, grows faster and is cheap and easy to work with,” says Sangaru. He returned to Tripura, where he lived with the artisans, to work on the Truss Me collection. With the Red Dot Best of the Best Design Award in 2009, his designs won widespread recognition.
Eight artisans from Tripura continue to work with Sangaru, who is currently stationed in Bangalore. Most are from the younger generation, who may otherwise have struggled to make ends meet, and not continued this generations-old tradition.
“This is the perfect collaboration. While I handle the design bit, they utilise their skills. Although we are now in Bangalore, I plan to return to Tripura. Not all the artisans are able to leave their homes; these include mostly women who have families to tend to. It is important for me to stay with them so they are exposed and involved in all aspects of production,” says Sangaru.
Winning the British Council Award for Young Creative Entrepreneur working for social impact has helped encourage the younger generation to continue working as craftsmen. The award, as part of which Sangaru was sent to London for a week, enabled him to network with like-minded designers, and learn about the creative markets in the UK.
Sangaru, whose bamboo designs are going to be part of a retail outlet in Singapore starting December 1, plans to move to other materials soon. “I will continue to work with natural materials using traditional techniques. Currently I am working with artisans in Bangalore — we’re coming up with a range of terracotta cookware. After that, I hope to work with the artisans in Kashmir,” he concludes.