Bholu: Giving new meaning to giving back
Australian designer Jodie Fried had been living in India for several years on a costume design scholarship when a major earthquake flattened the country’s desert region of Gujarat in 2001, killing tens of thousands. Moved by the plight of a people she’d fallen in love with, Jodie soon found herself sifting through the rubble on an aid mission in an impoverished area near the border with Pakistan, where she was charged with the task of rebuilding and decorating the huts which had been destroyed by the quake. Somewhere in the midst of all that destruction, Bholu was born. Says Jodie,
I experienced amazing hospitality by these incredibly rural and poor traditional people. I became particularly close with the women, whose beautiful traditional embroidery is only really used for their own clothing.
They are amazing women, they have bangles up to their armpits and do their embroidery with a child strapped to their back in low light. Their skill and art amazed me, and I thought immediately: I have to do something with this.
Do something, she did. Bholu produces high-end cushions and throws for adults, but where we think Jodie’s company truly shines is with her Bubalah children’s range. You don’t even have to take my word for it: Bholu’s stuffed toys, swaddling blankets and kids bedsheet/pillow sets are also loved by celebrity moms like Cate Blanchett, Naomi Watts and Toni Colette. What’s not to love? The designs are both inspired and inspiring, making Bholu a purchase you can feel good about for years and years to come.
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Each of the items in the Bubalah range was designed by Gujarati children between the ages of 3 and 7, living in slum communities where Jodie routinely holds art workshops. The drawings are then turned over to the local women artisans, who hand-embroider each piece using traditional techniques. The village men are also involved in the process, doing some final stitching and taking part in the packing of products for shipment. As far as production processes go, Bholu is about as socially responsible as they come. The art workshops, Jodie notes, give "kids a chance to be kids … a time to draw and create instead of working," while the village women gain a sense of independence that only an income can provide.
I recently received the ‘Fredrick Elephant’ in apple green ($60), and as you now know, he is truly a one-of-a-kind stuffed toy! Made with wool felt & hand embroidery and stuffed with microfiber wadding, the adorable Fredrick — and each of Bholu’s Bubalah stuffed toys — are safe for children of all ages. Fredrick measures approximately 8" tall x 7" wide, and he’s just a really cheery fellow that I love to look at. I don’t know that I’d toss him into our 16-month-old’s crib to play with, just because his origins are so special that I’m paranoid Sammy would mess him up — but he’d make an excellent gift for a small child. Or, for that matter, an adult with even the slightest appreciation for a back story so inspiring. In addition to Fredrick, the children in Bholu’s art workshops created characters ‘Ignatius Critter,’ ‘Marjorie Duck,’ ‘Quinton Giraffe’ and ‘Abraham Dinosaur,’ each of which is also available as a stuffed toy.
We also had the pleasure of reviewing Bholu’s Bubalah baby wrap ($60) in the aforementioned ‘Ignatius Critter’ design. Sewn in Indian red thread on a cream 100% cotton background, Critter appears in the upper-right-hand corner of the wrap and is trailed by three large whimsical loops. The 41"-square wrap is machine washable — with warm water and on a normal cycle — and should be line-dried. A warm iron can also be used. The baby wrap comes in Fredrick Elephant and Marjorie Duck versions in addition to Critter, and it is both soft to the touch and incredibly airy. Like its stuffed toy counterparts, the baby wrap would make a thoughtful gift or keepsake for a socially conscious expectant mom.
For most people, just holding the children’s art workshops and giving the women of Gujarat a steady source of income is admirable enough. But for Jodie and Bholu, there was — and is — more work to be done. That’s why a portion of all proceeds from Bholu’s products are returned to the artisans who created them, and that’s why Bholu is working to build several schools, or Anganwandis, for underprivileged children. It’s an ambitious goal, but its working: In Sept. 2007, Bholu opened their first Anganwandi. It’s not often that you have the opportunity to change so many lives, so instantly, by doing something so easy as purchasing a stuffed toy or swaddle blanket — but with Bholu, you can.
Bholu’s showroom in Surry Hills, Australia, is available for viewing by appointment only. Bholu will ship internationally; To purchase a Bubalah, or any of Bholu’s products, visit Bholu’s website.