Revivalist, writer and co-founder of Dastkar Society for Crafts & Craftspeople, Laila Tyabji has worked in the crafts sector since 1978. She is known for revolutionising the crafts sector in India by developing the retail market, contemporising artisan skills and liaising with artists and buyers.
Born in Delhi, Tyabji and her family travelled extensively and moved to Mumbai when she was two years old. After studying at Welham Girls School, Dehradun, Tyabji pursued art at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Vadodara, then worked in Tokyo with Japanese printmaker Toshi Yoshida. She briefly worked as a freelance designer and graphic artist in Delhi before being offered a three-month project in the 1970s by the Gujarat State Handloom and Handicraft Development Corporation to visit Kutch to assist local craftspeople and evaluate how craft forms could become sustainable and be introduced to urban markets, which allowed her to document traditional practices in detail; it was also here that Tyabji learned embroidery — a skill that she practises to this day. After returning from Kutch, Tyabji began working as a merchandiser with the art and craft collection of Taj Khazana, a lifestyle store at Taj Hotel, New Delhi.
In 1981, Tyabji, along with Bunny Page, Poonam Muttreja, Jaya Jaitly, Gauri Chaudhury and Prabeen Grewal, founded Dastkar with the aim of empowering artisans in the country. Tyabji has worked with artisans such as chikan workers, Kasuti embroiderers, Madhubani painters and Banjara and Rabari mirrorwork craftswomen to work around design concerns, sizing, pricing and improving business prospects to meet artisans’ needs. Through Dastkar, Tyabji has also been associated with other organisations such as SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association), Lucknow, and Rangsutra.
She received the Ministry of Textiles and National Institute of Fashion Technology Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999 and the Padma Shri in 2012. She has also written a book on Indian textiles, titled Threads and Voices – Behind the Indian Textile Tradition (2007).
At the time of writing, Tyabji lives and works in New Delhi and serves as the Chairperson of Dastkar.
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