A Chronicle of Sustainability and Shepherd's Whispers
In the heart of Rajasthan's Rajasar Bhatiyan, where the echoes of a fading pastoral way of life lingered, emerged a collaboration - The Desi Oon Project. A collaboration amongst CfP-URMUL Setu and Rangsutra, unfolded in 2019, creating ripples of change that resonated from shepherds to weavers and beyond.
A mere classroom survey during my fellowship sparked a profound revelation. Twenty classmates, wrapped in what they believed to be pure Himachali wool, discovered a hidden truth—they were adorned in a poly-wool mix, and none of the wool was Indian. So, where does the Indian wool go?—close to 80% of indigenous wool in India is discarded. Despite being the third-largest sheep population globally, we stand as the second-largest importer of wool.
The consequences ripple through the wool value chain, hitting pastoralists and artisans the hardest. The Desi Oon Project, is a beacon of hope for Rajasar Bhatiyan in the Bikaner District of Rajasthan.
From Sheep to Shear: Empowering Communities Through Desi Oon
The Desi Oon initiative, by Rangsutra, aimed not only to create a common facility centre for shepherds but also to breathe life into the entire value chain. Rangsutra took charge of product development and marketing, and our journey began.
As the community engaged—from shepherds to spinners, weavers to dyers—a unique cluster emerged. Seven women artisans, initially trained for product development, paved the way for learning on the job for others. By 2022, a village that once lacked traditional weavers now boasts 14 artisans engaged in diverse activities.
Fair prices for wool were a cornerstone, uplifting shepherds from the initial stages. Training sessions included innovative steps, such as using soap to wash sheep before shearing, resulting in cleaner wool fetching higher rates at the Bikaner wool Mandi.
Spending almost a year in the wool cluster of Rajasar Bhatiyan revealed a mesmerising symbiosis between shepherds and their sheep. In a herd of a hundred, the shepherd intimately knows each sheep, understanding their needs and fatigue. The chokla sheep, renowned for their wool ideal for carpets, once adorned kaftans, coats, and Pattus—crafted from the very wool now overlooked.
The Desi Oon Project doesn't just revive and innovate; it breathes life into the pastoral way of life—living lightly on the land. These free-grazing sheep roam the open deserts, with "wastelands" serving as crucial pastoral walkways. The project not only preserves but celebrates the cultural significance of these spaces.
In the heart of this green value chain cluster, natural dyeing became an art form. Shifting from yarn dyeing to fibre dyeing due to water scarcity, this not only conserved water but also softened the wool, giving a uniform colour to the yarn.
"Dhaani," the collection born from this process, echoes the colloquial term used by shepherds when sheep graze in the fields. A celebration of Rajasthan's soul, Dhaani is an all-natural symphony where no chemicals touch the process. Yarns are washed with Reetha (soap nut), inviting you to embrace a collection that's not just clothing but a journey.
The Desi Oon Project isn't just about wool; it's a narrative of resilience, empowerment, and sustainable practices. As Dhaani unfolds its vibrant palette, it invites you to join this journey of change—a tale where tradition meets innovation, and the land and its people harmonise in a beautiful tapestry.
May you resonate with the whispers of shepherds and the threads of transformation.