Polishing the leather city-Kanpur
“What goes on before a $10 leather hide becomes a $4,000 leather bag?” asks John Thackara, the long-time design innovator and co-creator of Kanpur Design Innovation Lab (KDIL).
Thackara was addressing a gathering at Unbox Festival 2014, the fourth edition of this annual ‘out of the box’ interdisciplinary festival, in Delhi. One of the workshops had KDIL exploring ways to redesign Kanpur’s leather factories to promote eco-friendly leather goods as well as direct linkages between producers and customers.
A diverse group made up of design school students from across the country, entrepreneurs from Pakistan, organic farmers from Bengaluru and even a former Coca-Cola executive-turned-‘open innovator’ put their heads together to redesign the industrial city’s ₹292-crore leather sector.
“Kanpur is where I grew up and where I have come back to now,” says Mansi Gupta, KDIL co-creator. She graduated from the School of Visual Arts, New York, before returning to her hometown. “Despite being a large industrial town, Kanpur often loses development opportunities as it remains a tier-2 city. A lab such as ours will hopefully generate opportunities to benefit livelihoods, the environment and the city itself,” she says. KDIL emerged out of Gupta’s thesis work in New York where Thackara was her adviser. “I was working on bringing pride back into factories, and ways to incorporate more mindful ways of making,” she says.
Participants at the workshop were asked to recreate a leather eco-system that facilitates maximum interaction between consumers and producers. The models they came up with included fair trade systems and branding that stresses the environmental quotient to help project the industry in a different light. Gupta hopes to translate some of these ideas into practice at the factory she is associated with back home.
“We will collaborate with design and technical schools in Kanpur, including IIT-Kanpur, as well as leather industrialists,” she says. “We need projects to make use of the production waste generated at the factories.” In the long term, she and Thackara hope the lab will help device solutions not just for the city’s leather sector but also its traffic, sanitation and garbage management. “Our idea is to help in the city’s development,” Gupta says.