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Upcycled Cycles Create Jobs for Artisans

There is rich heritage breathing all over India. In Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh that includes the art of metalwork. For centuries, Moradabad has been known for its superb metalwork, where the craft of intricate brass artwork has been handed down through generations and developed over time to now include all forms of metalwork—right down to recycled bicycle chain, which is creating jobs for artisans and unique gifts for cyclists.

Upcycled Cycles Create Jobs for Artisans headline on a photo of a piece of upcycled bicycle chain art. The bicycle chain has been shaped into a bike with three hooks on it so it functions as hanging wall hooks.
Bike Chain Wall Hook

Artisans have adapted to skyrocketing metal prices and scant resources in rural areas by applying their creativity in new ways—in this case, through salvaging bicycle chain from the many repair shops throughout the city and turning that ordinary material into extraordinary works of art. You’ll find picture frames, book ends, wall hooks, sculptures, clocks and more all made from bike chain and now paying homage to a favorite mode of transportation and a favorite past-time. Exported to western markets as part of the fair trade model, no matter where you are, you can gift your cycling fanatic father some bike chain bookends, or your artistic aunt a bike chain photo frame, or your earth conscious nephew some bike chain wall hooks for his new apartment. Gifts for cyclists abound, but no matter who you are, you can appreciate the innovation and resilience present in these new-form works of art.  

Artisan, Kamrul Hasan, is pictured seated on a mat in a workshop hammering bike chain. He is smiling at the camera and has a product sample of a bike chain picture frame in front of him that he created.
Kamrul Hasan, Noah’s Ark artisan using recycled bicycle chain to create frames

How it’s Made:

Cycling has been one of India’s main forms of transportation for decades, but especially following 2019’s COVID-19 pandemic which greatly affected operation and safety of public transport. This means bicycle repair shops and junk traders are plentiful. Metal workers salvage bike chain from the shops and traders all over Moradabad, then take them to workshops to burn the grease out and cull the usable chain from the junk. Then the creativity begins, as the chain is wrapped around various handmade iron molds and welded into what will be its final form. Following quality checks, cleaning, color plating and more quality checks, the artwork will eventually find its way to export, and our artisan partners will be paid a sustainable living wage for their art and skill.  

Two Noah's Ark artisans smile at the camera, each holding up a Bicycle Chain Picture Frame from our gifts for cyclists collection.
Noah’s Ark artisans share their work

Noah’s Ark International Exports: 

How did these unique, upcycled cycle pieces come to a store near you? In 1986, businessman, Samuel Masih observed exporters and middlemen taking advantage of many handicraft artisans and resolved to create a place where artists, and subsequently their families and communities, could thrive. It was with that vision that Noah’s Ark International Exports was born—a fair trade handicraft marketing organization near the Moradabad artisan hub. He called it Noah’s Ark in reference to the biblical tale of a large ship which once gave shelter to mankind, just as he dreamed of giving shelter to the artisan community at large. Today, the Noah’s Ark group works with more than 40 independently operating workshops, translating to around 500 individual artisans who now have steady, fair income in safe workplaces. Noah’s Ark also provides free education for artisans’ children in a place where school fees can be high and not all children have the luxury of an education; they offer water filtration to artisan’s homes in a place where municipal water is frequently shut off for many hours of the day; and they provide access to medical and dental care. All this in addition to their commitment to fair trade and up-front financing for workshops.  

Artisan, Attar Singh and his family are pictured. He stands next to his wife with his four children in front of them. Attar Singh holds up a Bike Chain Wine Rack. There are sari textiles hanging behind them and a motorcycle parked to their right.
Attar Singh and family

Artisan, Attar Singh stated of his experience with Noah’s Ark, “since about 2 years (after beginning product development with Noah’s Ark) I started getting pretty sustainable orders. This way my life started experiencing changes as I have enough to feed my family and provide their daily needs, saving money for emergencies and good schooling to my children. Beside this, I feel happy as I could provide employment to another three person from my village. The best feeling is that I feel safe economically due to regular orders from Noah’s Ark.” 

Gifts for cyclists? Shop with intention.

This centuries-old craft of metalwork is an upholding of tradition and culture, and many artisans strive to continue to pass their skills on, a goal made possible with access to broader markets through fair trade and exporters like Noah’s Ark and their partnerships overseas. When you choose to buy fair trade, you’re choosing to invest in artisan opportunity. Next time you’re surfing the internet or wandering shops for that special gift, consider these gifts for cyclists (or anyone who appreciates one-of-a-kind gifts) and think of all the time, energy, innovation and creativity that goes into each one before they ever begin the journey to your shores.  

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Erica Martin

Content Writer for Ten Thousand Villages, Erica lives in Oregon with her partner, three kids, two dogs and all the wild animals that roam her property whom her children are so fond of naming. Her heart beats for social justice, sunshine, campfires and great chai tea lattes. You’ll generally find her in the garden, behind a camera, curled around a good book, or chasing her children who insist upon getting faster and more cunning every year they’re alive. Words bring Erica life, and she’s hoping you can excavate something gratifying from hers.

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Mosaic brings you stories that help you make fair trade and global culture part of your style, home and life.