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Wear your heritage

Online brand Zola combines crafts and jewellery to offer products that celebrate India’s craft heritage and create sustainable livelihoods for rural artisans

The word Zola in Italian translates to a piece of earth. The online ethnic jewellery brand Zola is an extension of the concept and is inspired by the art, architecture and culture of India.

(Above) Cascading necklace made with the traditional Toda embroidery of the Nilgiris tribe with copper Dhokra and black and red crystal beads; (right) founder Gina Joseph
Cascading necklace made with the traditional Toda embroidery of the Nilgiris tribe with copper Dhokra and black and red crystal beads; (right) 

They sell earrings, necklaces and anklets that are inspired by craft traditions from across the country. Zola is the brainchild of Chennai-based Gina Joseph (31), a graduate of Visual Communication from Loyola College. She worked in fields like advertising and journalism before starting this brand.

Founder Gina Joseph
Founder Gina Joseph

While Joseph doesn’t have any formal training in jewellery design, she rewound to the Indian art, Western art and cultural studies classes that she had attended for inspiration.

What’s on offer?
The collection includes jewellery of the Dhokra Damar tribes of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha that use the lost wax casting technique and create jewellery motifs and artefacts with an alloy of nickel, brass and zinc.

Pattachitra style hand-painted earrings on wood by a traditional Pattachitra artist of Odisha
Pattachitra style hand-painted earrings on wood by a traditional Pattachitra artist of Odisha

Brass, copper, white metal beads, Dokhra motifs, Kutia and Koya combs of the Kutia Kondh and Koya tribes have also been used to create necklaces, anklets and earrings. Using Odisha’s Pattachitra style of painting, Zola offers hand-painted earrings on wood, inspired by the devadasis of Konark and other Indian mythological and folk tales.

Leather tie-up necklace hand-painted by leather puppetry artists of Andhra Pradesh
Leather tie-up necklace hand-painted by leather puppetry artists of Andhra Pradesh

The most recent addition to Zola’s collection is a range of leather puppet jewellery by artisans from Andhra Pradesh. The range of jewellery takes anywhere between a week to two months to create depending on the intricacy of the craft and availability of materials.

Necklace made with the traditional Aranmula mirror  of Kerala
Necklace made with the traditional Aranmula mirror of Kerala

Indian art for all
Describing the set-up as a social entrepreneurship model, Joseph mentions that the vision behind the brand is to create sustainable livelihoods for rural artisans, especially women. Towards this end, design workshops are organised for artisans wherein they are introduced to new materials, tools and technologies.

Speaking about the brand, Joseph says, “Zola ‘happened’ to me when I did an Arts Management programme at Dakshinachitra Museum (Tamil Nadu) last year. Before that, I had a peripheral knowledge about art. I appreciated it but didn’t know the details. As part of my Indian art project, I created three pieces of jewellery.

I was fascinated by the temple women in Indian sculpture: the Salabanjikas (tree huggers), Madanikas (dancers) and Yakshis (goddesses of fertility), so I got them carved in wood and put it together with semi-precious stones. The concept was to wear a piece of history on yourself.”

While working on new collections, she ensures that the style of art is not tampered with: “I let the craftsman do what they are comfortable with. Only the form changes.” She observes that offering grants to artisans is akin to putting a band aid on real issues: “We are not taught cultural history in schools.

Only political history is focussed upon, which is sad. Preservation is not just the job of museums; it begins at the grassroots, in our homes, by educating ourselves and our children.” Next up, Joseph plans to explore the other Indian crafts. “I plan to hold workshops in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Kerala.

Each time, it’s a new experience for me, with new materials and techniques. So, I don’t have designs planned in advance. It’s done on the floor while I interact with the artisans where I see and feel the material, and learn about the techniques.”

Log on to: www.facebook.com/zolaindia, jaypore.com and gaatha.com
Price range: 200 to 5,500

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