Chiaroscuro is a New Delhi based workshop initiative that specializes in crafting leather collectibles while harnessing the skills of India’s storied craftsmen.
Simply put, we make beautiful pure leather bags and accessories. And, all our creations are single-artisan-made.
What do we mean by single-artisan-made?
‘Single-artisan-made’ defines our overall approach to business. It means we design and manufacture all products in the Chiaroscuro workshop. We do not have a manufacturing unit with assembly lines or contractual labour. The majority of our team is made up of highly skilled leather artisans.
All our artisans only work on one creation at a time, devoting their complete attention, skilled craftsmanship and accumulated knowledge to the process. As a result, each piece is single-artisan made. Everything from cutting the leather to putting in the finishing touches are the responsibility of one craftsman.
Why are we a workshop initiative?
The workshop approach is the culmination of years of experience with the fashion and leather industries. Leather involves a specialized craft, and India has an old tradition of leather-craft, which according to us, doesn’t get its due. ‘Single-artisan-made’ is our way of keeping the artisan’s craft alive.
Keeping our priority on the craft means each of our products is unique, personal and of superior quality. Our day-to-day dealings are focused on making and creating, rather than on the efficiency of systems and production lines. This way, everyone from our leather suppliers to our customers is directly engaging with the process of creation.
It’s a lot more fun this way.
How does the workshop approach affect the artisans?
Our artisans are at the heart of Chiaroscuro. Not all leather workers are able to do what we do. The fact that our team of craftsman can produce a bag from start to finish, is a testimony to the level of skill, patience and interest each of them have.
Chiaroscuro stands firmly against sweatshops, mass production and contractual labor. The workshop is inherently an effort to create a more sustainable, nurturing work environment. Each artisan is supported with guidance and training to help with a strong sense of self respect and an appreciation for their creative process.
When they first joined our team, for many of of our artisans the work just a means of earning a living, but over time we find that they have developed a sense of pride in their work and are happy to be doing what we do.
What does the Chiaroscuro approach mean for you, our customers?
A workshop-made approach implies that we are and will remain a small accessible label.
This also means that we are:
Slower: Our production cycles are slower so stocks on the online store tend to be low and your bags are often made to order.
Personal: When you select a design that's made to order, you get an insight into the production process, you get acquainted with the artisan behind the bag, and you can even make small alterations or add monograms.
Accessible: Our product photos are shot in-house, in natural lighting with our team and without professional models/retouching so you best imagine how the bags will suit you in real life situations. You can also always get in touch with us with any questions or to help personalize your selections.
Sustainable: Chiaroscuro is not for those interested in fast fashion. We encourage you to take your time to choose the creation that will live and evolve with you. Our designs are made to be worn every day and used repeatedly for years to come. The workshop will happily service your buys whenever you want.
How do you design products?
We design with functionality in mind and often draw inspiration from vintage pieces so that bags can be styled in a myriad ways to suit our customers’ needs and personality. The leather we use will ensure that the creations evolve and age with you so we encourage you to take your time to select your buy. We are also happy to help personalize your picks.
Our products are designed and built for daily use, and meant to go everywhere with you. The photos on our website are taken by us in and around our workshop and feature our team members or their limbs, so you can picture what the creation will really look and feel like on you. They are designed and styled keeping the real world in mind.
We love leather.
Pure leather, like good wood, is a living material, it ages and changes, taking on different characters over the years. And it lasts for ever. Our aim as designers and artisans is to amplify these organic qualities of the material.
Doesn’t using leather conflict with your belief in ‘a sustainable way’?
Our endeavor is to work with only those supply from tanneries where leather is a byproduct of the meat industry. No animals, endangered or otherwise are ever reared primarily for their hides.
The existing leather goods industry generates lots of surplus hides that are rejected because of "imperfections" - uneven skin colour, small scars, shade variations. We believe these natural qualities make the leather more beautiful. We source each hide from stock and sample lots where the leather has already been tanned but lying unused to avoid wastage. This is known as up-cycling of leather.
Almost all the leather qualities we use are tanned using natural tannin and colored with mostly vegetable dyes to keep the process as environmentally responsible as possible. Even the fabric we use is made from 100% natural fibres and handloomed with love.
What’s with all the focus on sustainability?
Chiaroscuro was conceived as an effort to make high quality, functional, affordable, pure leather accessories in India.
With the advent of fast fashion and high street retailers, "Made In India" has come to be associated with mass produced, low priced and base quality products. The image of handcrafted one-of-a-kind creations made with generations of skill, knowledge and love feels like a distant memory. One of our foremost mottos while developing Chiaroscuro was to do our little bit to build this image back again.
Our approach and business philosophy logically followed from this mission and our experience with the fashion industry. It means that we are deeply involved with each part of the process from sourcing to sale and upkeep of our products.
The workshop runs on refurbished machines to craft each creation. Most of the furniture is pre-loved, donated by supportive patrons. All packaging and branding material is made from 100% biodegradable & recycled kraft paper. And each member of our team either cycles or walks to work.
Sustainability is a logical consequence of our philosophy. We are proud to say that none of our creations are mass produced. Each one is made lovingly by a single artisan, from the beginning to the very end. One piece at a time.