An Indian touch to a royal blanket
An eco-friendly summer blanket chosen by Meghan Markle for royal baby Archie recently brought Indian handiwork and traditional skills to the global forefront.
An Indian entrepreneur, whose organic and eco-friendly baby blanket was used by Meghan Markle to wrap up her two-month-old son during a recent outing, believes that it is the painstaking labour that goes into the fabric that makes it so special.
The 37-year-old American actress turned royal chose Malabar Baby’s $42 “Erawan Cotton Dohar” for baby Archie as they went to watch a polo match played by his father, Britain’s Prince Harry, in south-east England recently. Some media reports zeroed in on the Indian creation chosen by Markle to criticise the very low wages of the workers in Rajasthan who hand-crafted it.
Anjali Harjani, the founder of Hong Kong headquartered Malabar Baby, fought back to say that all workers associated with her brand are paid fairly in the Indian factories creating the artisanal range.
“Malabar Baby worked hard to research the finest factories, both in terms of quality of craftsmanship but also respect for their staff, to produce our collections,” said Harjani, when the claims of low wages in the Indian factories creating the products were addressed to the company.
“Many of the factories it works with go further and are part of a collective that come together to reduce environmental impact and preserve the art of hand block-printing. It works with factories owned by women where staff have been employed for many years, being paid fairly and working in good conditions,” she said.
The “Erawan Cotton Dohar” is sold on the Malabar Baby portal as offering three layers of soft natural cotton sewn together to bring the utmost softness and breathability to a baby blanket, as part of its wide range of baby products. The company says it is proud to be preserving the traditional art of block-printing, which goes through many skilled artisan hands.
“The dohar blanket takes between five to seven days to make and requires the work of highly skilled pattern cutters and block printers to produce. The dohar is sold for $42, which is far less than other similar products but Malabar Baby have maintained the price in order that more children can enjoy it,” explains Harjani.
The company was created by the Hong Kong based entrepreneur and named after Malabar Hills in Mumbai, the area where her family is based. She struck upon the concept while pregnant herself and found a gap in the market for baby products using natural and organic materials coupled with traditional artisanal techniques, with a focus on sustainability. Markle, a new mother who gave birth to Archie in early May, is known for her inclination towards organic and sustainable products and her choice of a hand-made Indian summer blanket would inevitably have a significant impact on sales of similar products worldwide.
“Malabar Baby is a small, family run business that prides itself on producing high quality products which are slow made in small batches. Its founder is passionate about encouraging people to buy less and buy better quality, but offering products at an accessible price point so they can be enjoyed by all which is why prices start from $18,” said Harjani.
Her company uses manufacturing sites across India and China and works off hand-drawn sketches which are traced onto wood and hand-carved to create the block prints. Its designers come from around the world, including Mumbai, the US and Hong Kong.
The factory that Malabar Baby works with in India is a leading member of “Jaipur Bloc”, whose partners include the UK charity Traidcraft and the European Commission’s Switch Asia programme, with a mission to promote the production and consumption of textiles from Rajasthan that are both environmentally friendly and positively impact on poor workers and their communities.
“The art of block-printing goes through many skilled artisan hands and we are proud to be a part of preserving this tradition,” notes Harjani.
Markle has a previous connect with similar Indian socially-aware enterprises, having also chosen a Mumbai charity among the handful of beneficiaries of donations in lieu of wedding gifts during her grand royal wedding at Windsor Castle in May 2018.
“Meghan Markle was always involved in the field of women’s empowerment and was very keen to support the work of organisations that try and make a difference at a grassroots level. She has been a constant source of support for us and this latest development has been truly incredible,” says Suhani Jalota, the founder of Myna Mahila Foundation, a women’s empowerment charity which produces and distributes low-cost sanitary napkins to women in Mumbai’s slums.
The actress-turned-royal famously made a high-profile visit to New Delhi and Mumbai with the humanitarian aid foundation World Vision in 2017 just as her relationship with Prince Harry went public. One of the focusses was the Clean India programme and the access to proper sanitation for young girls in India.
“Beyond India, in communities all over the globe, young girls’ potential is being squandered because we are too shy to talk about the most natural thing in the world,” she said at the time.