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January 08, 2019

Madhumita Nath’s Inclusion In LFW’s Gen Next Batch Is A Refreshing Move

Text by Sadaf Shaikh

A platform which was earlier reserved for designers between the age groups of mid-twenties to mid-thirties, Lakmé Fashion Week’s Gen Next is breaking fresh ground by including Madhumita Nath as part of its designer cluster…..

The Gen Next batch, which is the premier presentation at every edition of Lakmé Fashion Week, has seen the likes of Rahul Mishra, Nachiket Barve, Masaba Gupta, Aneeth Arora and Kalol Datta make their debut on the runway. Every year, a batch of 4-6 designers comes forth to introduce their labels and the response to their collections often makes or breaks their future in the industry. Gen Next designers are usually between the age groups of mid-twenties to mid-thirties and the cluster seldom sees the inclusion of designers who are past their thirties. so, we were pleasantly surprised to spot 40-year-old Madhumita Nath’s name on this season’s list. The designer founded Ek Katha two years ago and prides herself on how her label uses completely natural raw materials, locally available resources and environmentally-friendly methods of production. Engaging with the craftsmen of Kutch, Nath has managed to showcase her collections in Berlin and Madrid, where she earned laurels for her dedication to handmade garments. As she prepares for her first show at Lakmé Fashion Week, she speaks to us exclusively about her journey in the fashion industry.

Excerpts from the interview…

Ek Katha translates into ‘a story’ in English. What tale are you trying to narrate through your label?
Ek Katha has innumerable hands working in a very organic environment. The story is about the process of creation, starting with the growth of desi cotton to making the final garment. What I also like are the open-ended possibilities which allow room for newer processes and value additions in the system. Our ecosystem is geographically located in Kutch which gives me access to more crafts from the region that I can incorporate into my label. Ek Katha has already found its base story and is working around more possibilities for additional volumes.

Can you tell us the process behind making a single outfit at Ek Katha?
The cotton that we use is known as Kala Cotton and is grown by the Adesar Farmers’ Cooperative in Rapar District in Kutch. The Meghwar Vankars near Bhuj spin and weave the cloth but only a few weavers there are engaged in weaving my cloth at present. So, I am also getting Kala cotton cloth woven in Odisha in wider fabric widths as their looms have greater capacity.

A portion of the woven cloth goes to the Batik block-printing unit in Mundhra, Kutch where the cloth is printed using a combination of beeswax and paraffin wax. The fabric is then dyed in natural colours that use pomegranate, indigo and catechu which do not require heating for the mordanting process. The ready cloth reaches our studio in Mumbai where it is stitched into garments and accessories.

Tell us how Bliss, the collection that you are showcasing at Lakmé Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2019 (Gen Next), is different from your previous collections?
For Bliss, we have worked on weaves which combine twills and diamonds with Kala cotton yarn and Nassi silk yarn. I have also used silk organza to accentuate certain features. The fabric has a softer handle and drapes better than the previous fabrics. The cloth retains its grainy appearance while being soft to the touch, unlike the fabrics we used earlier which became soft only after multiple washes. Also, the entire collection has been woven by weavers in Odisha and Kutch. The collection is subtle and understated and boasts a colour palette of beige, muted yellow and grey.

If you had to pick a single outfit from Bliss as your favourite, which one would it be?
The trench coat. It’s a versatile piece that can be teamed up with multiple options like pants and dresses.

How has your label progressed since the two years it was founded?
From organising a pop-up in Mumbai to being part of Madrid’s Let It Slow show and now getting the opportunity to showcase at Lakmé Fashion Week’s Gen Next, Ek Katha has come a long way. We stuck to our core philosophy of only using Kala cotton, undeterred by the route other designers were taking. The label has grown with baby steps and I would do it exactly the same way if I had the chance to do it all over again.

In terms of presenting my collections at international venues, the response was very positive in both Berlin and Madrid.  Foreign markets tend to gravitate towards clean cuts and quality fabrics. They like to hear your story if they relate to the ethos of your brand and they really appreciate handmade clothes because of their dearth in their own country. In Europe, linen-growing has reduced drastically and the weaving culture has also been on a steady decline. The cloth from the Asian Subcontinent has a special value and this was very heartening to see. Berliners especially appreciated the cloth and the muted colours and I would definitely want to do more in Berlin to get greater exposure.

The fact that you are 40 and are part of the Gen Next batch means that Indian fashion is becoming less ageist. How do you feel about it?
I really did not think twice before applying to the Gen Next programme. Fashion reflects the collective consciousness of the people and has the power to unite different places, ages and cultures. In the Indian context, this proves that we are currently experiencing one of the most exciting phases in the fashion industry where we not only have designers across the age spectrum, but each one also has a very distinct personality and design sensibility.

Sustainability is the word du jour in the fashion industry. In a sea of sustainable designers that have popped up on the scene in recent years, what makes Ek Katha stand out?
I think each brand has its own sustainability pillar on which they base their work. We have ours too. We work with the organic, indigenous cotton of Kutch and juxtapose it with batik woodblock prints. Batik comes with its own limitations in terms of the vegetable colours like muted yellows, green and brown that comprise its palette. This lends a very distinctive visual imagery where the patterns are inspired by flowers and leaves and are turned into a seamless batik wood block.

When it comes to sustainability, I hope it’s not a short-lived phase. In case it turns out to be one, my only wish is that those who genuinely believe in it will continue to practise it irrespective of whether the tide turns or not.

What do you think is the Indian fashion industry missing at this point?
I think the fashion industry is a dynamic environment where everyone can co-exist. Maybe what’s missing is honesty on the part of the creators since everyone wants to jump on the green and eco-friendly bandwagon which has come a long way since merely being ‘hip’. I hope to see the greenwashing stop as even consumers are now jaded and unconvinced by these lofty claims and are smart enough to tell the real from the fakes.

 Lakmé Fashion Week will take place at JioGarden from January 30 to February 3, 2019.

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