Vidwata Singh, Chief Designer at Gulmeher, a women’s collective is helping the Gulmeher women perfect the ‘all natural’ colour making process for the upcoming Holi festival.
A visit to Gulmeher, a women’s cooperative of waste-pickers turned artisans,turned out to be an informative and delightful experience. As I entered, I came across a unit bursting with activity.
Knowing that the women of Gulmeher specialised in making eco-friendly products like calendars, stationary, greeting cards etc. using discarded flowers and recycled paper, I assumed to find a host of such products at the centre. I was greatly surprised therefore, when upon walking further into the unit, all I saw around me were colours. Colours drying on the terrace, colours in buckets, colours being packed. It was as if Holi had come early!
With everyone so busy, I felt my presence was at best intrusive. I was introduced to Vidwata Singh, Gulmeher’s chief designer, who told me that they were making natural colours for Holi. These colours were being made from vegetables and flowers.
On learning that Vidwata is an alumni of NIFT, at first I was curious to understand what brought her to Gulmeher. What followed was a tete-a-tete with Vidwata about her Gulmeher journey.
How long have you been associated with Gulmeher?
Vidwata shares, “I’ve been associated with Gulmeher since, 2013. I had joined as an intern after finishing my Masters in Design from NIFT Delhi. I had always had a passion for working closely with artisans and utilising my design skills to create unique art.”
How would you describe your journey at Gulmeher so far?
“I would say it has been both exciting and challenging. I still remember the first day I had come to Gulmeher. We started out with a group of women who had no idea of design or aesthetics, let alone the complex process of creating products from scratch. But, now that I look back, we’ve come a long way.
In the initial months, my focus was not on design at all. I realised that more than products, it was important to first develop the skills of Gulmeher women. So, I just dove right in and started working on building their belief in themselves that they could learn to create products that are not only beautiful but also, acceptable in the market.”
What motivated you to join Gulmeher?
“I believed in the cause behind the Gulmeher initiative. I was encouraged by the idea of using my design skills to create innovative eco-friendly products while ensuring that my expertise could contribute towards the skill development and empowerment of these women waste-pickers and drive them to dignity of livelihood.”
Considering the hustle bustle among Gulmeher women, we can see that the production of the Holi colours is in full swing. Could you tell us more about the colours being produced at Gulmeher?
“Yes, we are very excited about the colours we are making for Holi. The Phulwa range of colours by Gulmeher are ‘all natural’ colours made from flowers and vegetables. We have four soothing pastel shades of Pink, made from roses and beetroot, Yellow, made from Haldi and marigold flowers with added lemon peel for the fragrance, Green, made using leafy vegetables like spinach with added cardamom for fragrance and Orange that is made using colour theory by mixing pink and yellow.
The process of making these colours is a tedious one as we aim to preserve the natural facets like fragrance and colour of the various ingredients while placing a very strict
check on the quality and hygiene of the colours produced. All the colours are handcrafted as a large part of the process is manual.”
How much time does the production of these colours take?
“On an average, it takes about 4-6 days to produce a single lot of colours from the start of the process. Usually, we are able to churn out about 40-50 kg of colours in a single lot.”
How do you think Gulmeher colours are different from other colours available in the market?
“Our Phulwa colours are 100 percent natural colours. We do not add any chemical dyes in our colours. Since, they are made with all natural and herbal ingredients such as flowers and vegetables, they are extremely gentle on the skin and are also completely bio-degradable. In fact, the colours are so safe that we vouch for the fact that they can be edible. Another differentiating factor is that we have added Neem to all our colours to also give them an anti-bacterial property. This not only ensures that the colours don’t go bad since, they are all natural but, also makes them more suitable for people with sensitive skin.”
Why the name Phulwa?
“Well, there’s plenty inspiration behind the naming of our colours. To begin with, when we were trying out the various ingredients and processes to find the right mix for our colours, I happened to hear the evergreen classic by Lata Mangeshkar, ‘Purwa suhani aayi re’ from the movie Purab Aur Pachhim. That sparked the idea of twisting the word ‘Purwa’ to Phulwa. It seemed like a good fit since it was a clever play on the word that translates to spring but, more importantly it also highlights the fact that these colours are completely floral and natural. That’s when we started thinking more on the name.
Our choice seemed more befitting when we also realised that the word is commonly used in the colloquial dialect in the Braj region near Vrindawan. Another interesting fact is also, that a popular celebration of Holi is ‘Phoolon Ki Holi’. This is a concept that is believed to have originated in and traveled from the Braj region, where during the festivities, devotees play holi not with colours but with fresh flowers. All of this fortified our choice of the name but, the masterstroke was the fact that the name Phulwa put enough emphasis on flowers which are at the center of all the art that is created in Gulmeher.“
What’s a message that you’d want to give people to use the Gulmeher colours?
“We would encourage people to have a safe holi, one that is not only good for them but also for the environment. Let’s not pollute our mother Earth with non-biodegradable chemical colours that are also harmful to your skin. And we do look forward to being a part of your celebrations through our colours. We see it as spreading colour in your lives this Holi while by buying these colours you share the festive cheer with Gulmeher women and support them to earn a dignified livelihood.”
Meeting Vidwata was a great experience. It is inspiring to meet people who work towards bringing a positive change in society and dedicate their lives to improving the lives of their fellow human beings. And eco-friendly, it was not just a catchy slogan for this cooperative, I could see that they really believed in a life lived in harmony with nature.
Before walking out of Gulmeher, my thoughts turned to my niece, who was soon going to start asking me to shop for Holi Colours. So I bought five packets of Phulwa for her, and through them resolved to teach her what I had learned from Vidwata today, the importance and many advantages of using these natural colours over chemical ones.
Buy Phulwa All Natural Holi Colours on Amazon