Sharjah: From championing locally produced crafts of women artisans to laying emphasis on culturally relevant and context-sensitive practices, Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council (ICCC) has made a compelling case for the handmade as a tool for sustainable transformation through its continuous efforts in promoting education and research.

With 13 collections till date, Irthi - an affiliate of NAMA Women Advancement, is focusing on meeting various sustainable criteria in terms of materials in its products and cross-cultural craft collaborations. Through applied skills and material-based knowledge, Irthi women artisans are today forging strong connections between regional craft practices and sustainability as they take the hand-making traditions of the region into diverse, contemporary markets worldwide.

Sustainability lies at the heart of Irthi efforts and its pioneering initiatives are rooted in traditional craft practices that are implemented by reinventing and revitalising age-old techniques through contemporary interpretations to ensure cultural continuance. Irthi builds its sustainable vision of a women-led creative economy through a conscious choice of material usage that merges culturally sustainable Emirati craft practices together with innovative, cutting-edge design.

The Council's investments in research and innovation of indigenous materials are a testament to its commitment to shape the future of regional and international crafts and design markets. The potential of Irthi research-led biodegradable date palm textile prototype as a biomaterial of the future will have an enduring role in sustaining and advancing the craft, textile and design-build industries, especially with the ongoing shift towards the use of natural and sustainable materials and processes.

Irthi is further creating new pathways to sustainability by disseminating cultural skills and knowledge with its transformation of local materials into unique artistic expressions ideal for contemporary lifestyles.

Responsible choice of materials

Traditional crafts convey important cultural values and Irthi use of eco-friendly and sustainable materials found in the desert environment are helping preserve local crafts in a sustainable and economically viable manner.

Moui Collection Drop

Irthi’s Series, for instance, brings the sophistication and exquisite detailing of handmade crafts to everyday items. In the Moui Collection Drop, Irthi has reimagined the Talli’s craft, design, adaptability, colour, material and patterns, through its combination with natural leather and macrame weaves, creating a dialogue between varied crafts and cultures.

Nadd Collection Drop

In the Nadd Collection Drop, tradition and innovation coexist as the boundaries of Emirati clay crafts are stretched through a blend of hand and machine-made techniques and experimentations with different material processes and advanced digital techniques. The outcome is a sculptural range of tableware with a modern lifestyle narrative.

Thaya and Zenobia Collection Drop

This innovative adaptation of designs, materials, and techniques are also found in the Thaya Collection Drop that weaves the worlds of palm fronds ‘khose’, camel leather, cotton silk, and recycled felt, to give 

a contemporary interpretation of Safeefah (palm frond weaving) into homeware items. In the Zenobia Collection Drop - a modern collection of multifunctional bowls amalgamate the intricate, handwoven Emirati Talli within the wood-working marquetry heritage practised in the Levant.

Irthi unique multicultural design-to-production collaborations where knowledge and craft production techniques are exchanged and enriched, have led to the creation of innovative everyday items that cut across craft and design disciplines.

Creative power of nature

Reinforcing Irthi's commitment to sustainability, HE Reem BinKaram, Director of NAMA Women Advancement, said: “Craftsmanship and the natural environment have always been closely connected as artisans turn to nature both as a source of inspiration and as a sustainable material of choice for crafts. In the UAE, this respect for nature is rooted in their cultural identity and is evident in the crafting techniques and use of natural elements to create sustainable products that exude the energy of Sharjah’s landscape.”

The NAMA Director added: “This deep-rooted commitment to sustainability presents several challenges today when access to natural resources are limited and technology has reshaped the hand crafts of the heritage era. Yet, by using technology and innovation as a means for revitalising traditional environmental knowledge and transmitting this knowledge from one generation to the next, sustainable practices inherent in cultural crafting traditions can bring immense socio-economic and environmental benefits to communities.”

Ongoing research documentation

Irthi has also spearheaded the launch of two publications to document its Safeefah related research on extracting palm fibre from khose and dyeing khose using natural dyeing techniques. While the first publication focused on the Sharjah-based entity’s date palm textile research through an experimentation lab led process conducted between Sharjah, Amsterdam and the UK, the second publication is a collaborative venture with the Alchemy of Dyeing and documents natural and sustainable recipes for dyeing palm leaves.