"Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated by the richness of Indian crafts – I would say the profession chose me. I come from an army background and hence traveled all over the country. I studied at the Army Public School and went on to pursue a Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts and later a Masters in Textile Design from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad.
"Every day is an ongoing process of teaching and learning. I get inspired by the earthy organic elements of nature. I like working with natural materials including fabrics, wood, bamboo, stones, metals, etc. While not working, I love to write stories for children as well as painting.
"In October 2008 I co-founded Sumearth along with other creative professionals in different designing fields. Our mission is to promote sustainable livelihoods by developing a network of designers, social entrepreneurs, producer groups, and market facilitators. We have been actively involved in linking artisan groups in India's countryside with urban markets. The focus is on developing rural entrepreneurs and stakeholders, especially home-based women's enterprises.
"Sumearth derives its name from the Hindi word Samarth, meaning 'able.' The word gave us an opportunity to spell it differently, without losing its original articulation, and so it could also mean 'sum (core) of the earth.' We work with all natural materials and then we do a value addition to it, which then gives us another meaning: 'sum (adding) to earth.'
"Sumearth works with women's group in Bihar specializing in sujani embroidery; woodworkers; leather artisans; appliqué artisans; and hand-block printers in Barmer, Rajasthan, and weavers in Chanderi. To create sujani embroidery, old worn out sarees are piled together and tacked, with the colored threads pulled out from the borders to make quilts and mats. The running stitch motifs depict scenes from daily life and run in concentric circles within the shape to give an interesting quilted pattern. In olden days, sujani embroidery held a place of high esteem and was given as heirlooms at weddings even though these were made from old clothes.
"Sumearth is such a great venture with even better objectives and goals. We love working with a wide range of crafting styles and materials, with the aspiration to harness traditional handlooms, handicrafts, and designs to create income generation opportunities for women.
"We work with approximately 25 to 30 artisans, and we also train women so that once they master their craft, they can go back to their own villages and work from their own homes. My role is to design, as well as to check for quality. The next step is to empower craftspeople by strengthening them with market-led design input and making them partners and stakeholders in our mission.
"I remember a long time back, I was waiting at a shop for some paintings I had taken in for framing, when I heard a singing voice coming from the back room. A young man was busy with a hammer making frames and just I stood for some time watching him, realizing he was really enjoying his work. When I approached him, he told me he loved his work and that his frames were the best ones around and different from others.
"That day I realized that although all frames might look the same to some, to others it does make a difference. And that 'it is not important to do different things, but to do them differently.'
"There can be a lot of traits that describe me, but it is my passion for my work and crafts that define me; they are what make my life interesting and worthwhile. Now, I also sing when I work.
"I am glad to be associated with Novica, because they can help by giving Indian handicrafts a contemporary market platform. Sumearth brings you the buoyancy of life from the heart and hands of embroiders. Handcrafted pieces adorned with laughter, gossip, shared hopes, whispered secrets and myriad dreams. Each piece embracing vivid tales, some told and some waiting to unfold."
All the pieces under Neeti's name feature the Sumearth label.