André has been crafting high quality leather bags since more than 30 years – you might remember him being mentioned this interview with his wife, Bobby, who runs the Auromics unit. He too has seen his passion emerge from a long history of learning the craft and experimenting with design. “I started crafting leather bags in the 1980s in France. We were making bags, self-taught, and selling them on markets in summer or during the Christmas period. Then I came to India and for a long time I didn’t craft bags or work with leather. Once my trip in India was over, and that was almost 35 years ago, I went to Ibiza, Spain. There I met a man who had a shop for leather goods and he taught me how to properly work with leather to craft bags. I got my hands into it and learned a lot. So 33 years ago, when I came back to India to settle in Auroville, I made a few bags and the rest is history: I created Amano. Later, due to larger orders from customers in Bombay I had to employ a first worker, and then as more customers came I naturally expanded my team.”
Nowadays, the unit can be quite hectic, though André takes out his cycle when they are between orders and he can spend the day outside. While they keep up a regular supply of leather items for the Mira Boutique in Visitor’s Centre, it’s mostly the clients outside of Auroville that keep them busy with deadlines. And in the meantime, André keeps on designing: “Most of the time I am inspired by what I see around me, like when I am in Europe; I look at the bags that the women on the streets are wearing, then when I come back I craft new samples. The other designing process happens when people come to me with their own ideas that I try to materialize in the best way possible. In those cases I name the bags after the women who had the design idea.”
“To do this in Auroville, it means a lot.” Like many Aurovilians running a business unit, André sees distinct differences with the ‘outside.’ “It’s a different way of life, a different way of interacting, and so much more. For example in terms of business, we all know each other quite personally, so that makes a big difference between here and the outside world, where everything is quite distant. I work very closely with people from the surrounding villages. Over the years I have built a close relationship with the workers, I know all their families and when we have a celebration everyone gets together. We are supporting them in building their houses and so on. Auroville in this regard is a very close sort of family-run business I would say. Here I don’t feel like the boss, just that I am the one responsible.
That is one aspect, the other one is that running a business in Auroville makes Auroville grow, and this is one of the main points for me. Living in Auroville is a grace, when you see the state of the world. We are here to manifest something and I guess, in a way, we have to succeed.
Small Quantity, High Quality
For André, less is more, as quality is at the centre of his business: “I am trying to reduce a little, to be honest. I actually want to focus more on quality than quantity. The quality is a big challenge for us. We have quite high standards in terms of material and manufacturing. The process of crafting the bags is entirely in our hands, we make the bags by hand from beginning to end and the people I work with are very skilled in that regard. The problem we face is that we make bags in various colours and when we order the leather it is not necessarily the same shade from one delivery to the next.” It is a common problem for the small units of Auroville – where to get small quantities of fabrics, leather, and other materials that retain the same look and feel in the next batch? “That’s when things start getting tricky.”
This focus on quality is also changing the way that Amano is working. “I am more and more open to working with people who come with ideas for designs to craft samples, to have fun and sell in the boutique and online rather than having tight deadlines for big clients, where I get stressed and start running around. The only priority that needs to be assured is being able to pay my people decently while giving fair prices to the customers. To sum it up, the future of Amano will be as was in the past, small quantity and high quality. This has been our motto from the beginning.”