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Fashion
June 11, 2018

How Rural Women From Kaladhera In Rajasthan Are Transforming Into Entrepreneurs

Text by Ojas Kolvankar

Collaborating with designers Amit Vijaya and Richard Pandav at Lakme Fashion Week Summer/Resort 2018, the women from USHA Silai’s CSR initiative are going against the grain to earn their own livelihood….

Five young designers at Lakme Fashion Week’s Summer/Resort 2018 edition joined hands with USHA Silai School, a community-based initiative founded in 2011 that empowers women to become entrepreneurs, to create a harmonious collection that coalesced the visions of the designers and the karigars. These ensembles are now being retailed under a newly launched label and are being stocked alongside other premium brands in Delhi. We immersed ourselves in a conversation with these catalysts of fashion as they narrated their journey of bringing to life narratives from remote areas through this venture.

Designers Amit Vijaya and Richard Pandav collaborated with the artisans at the Kaladhera cluster in Rajasthan. From drawing inspiration from television series and magazines to incorporating his trademark finishing details, Vijaya takes us through his collection….

Excerpts from the interview:

On collaborating with the Kaladhera cluster…
“Both Richard and I work with tailors through Usha Silai Project (USP) and we got an opportunity to work at the grassroots, right from developing and tailoring textiles to producing finished garments at the centres. When it came to the Kaladhera cluster, we were not only comfortable with the language but also our nativity and heritage partially belongs to Rajasthan. We felt it would be challenging, yet rewarding, to work with the women of this cluster keeping in mind the social constraints prevalent in the region.

There were about 35 women who showed up at the centre with each of them displaying their handiwork with utmost pride. We were pleasantly surprised by the skills they had acquired all by themselves. Their designs were borrowed from the television and magazines; whenever they saw an actress wearing a nice dress, they’d imitate the design only by looking at it. We realised that what was essentially lacking in them was an understanding of the finish. If they would charge about fifty rupees for designing a blouse, finishing it from the inside wasn’t a priority since it would only be visible to the person wearing the garment. Taking that into consideration, it is commendable that these women picked up the art of inside-out tailoring in such a short time.”

The inspiration behind the collection…
“Titled ‘Ranisthan’, the collection is inspired by the Ranis (Queens) of Rajasthan. Every single woman working with us had her own aura — she was pure and powerful at the same time and had the desire to learn more. When we were teaching them how to finish a garment, they would implore the masterji (tailor) to demonstrate the process of fabric-cutting with precision so that they could tailor their garments better.”

Techniques employed for the collection…
“We foresaw many infrastructural issues had we opted for an intricate collection but we wanted to move away from the clichéd idea of Rajasthan. We didn’t want to overwhelm the artisans by asking them to work with silhouettes about which they had no prior context, so we borrowed elements from their everyday wardrobe. The collection is an ode to these women, made by them. We deconstructed the posakh, a traditional ensemble worn by these women during the festivals, to create simpler shapes — for example, the kurti became a shirt and ghagras became more like maxi skirts or ankle-length skirts.”

Impact on the artisans…
“Before our showcase at Lakme Fashion Week Summer/Resort 2018, we were sceptical about bring the karigars to the runway as they had never walked the ramp before. Since it was so far removed from their comfort zone, we wondered if they would able to do it. To our surprise, they were very most calm and confident.

One of the best moments was when the artisans saw the models dressed in their clothes. It immediately elicited shouts of  “Yes! We want to design more garments. When are we starting again?” That was just as thrilling for us as we realised that they did not think of this as a one-time association; they wanted the project to have more meaning.”

Visibility to the artisans…
“We understand that the artisans are not hungry for fame, nor are they looking at making vast fortunes all at once. What they yearn for is consistency with regard to work and to be paid on time. They don’t want the remuneration for their work to be a hassle. When you work at the grassroots, even not being paid fifty rupees can have an impact on someone’s livelihood, so we make it a point to work with smaller quantities and not overshoot the demand. It’s a give-and-take relationship between designers and craftsmen — there has to be an understanding and you have to treat them as equals.”

Addressing social issues through such collaborations…
“When patriarchial families see women generating regular incomes, that by itself goes a long way in changing mindsets. Rekha, a young girl at the USHA Sillai School, was about to get married when we started the project. We were not sure if she would come back to work post the wedding, but on the day of the sampling, we saw her in all her bridal finery accompanied by her husband who had come to drop her at the unit. It’s a small step in the right direction, but it makes all the difference!

Learnings from the artisans…
“In spite of facing many trials and tribulations, the women at the cluster continue to be ambitious and positive. We were working at a unit, which had two shutters. On the first day, both the shutters were kept open and there was abundant natural light. On the second day,  one of them was shut, so I asked them why they had pulled down the shutter. One of the women told us, “I have many relatives in the village and every time one of them passes by, I have to pull my ghoonghat (veil worn by married women to cover their head and face) down. Now that the shutter is pulled down I can work comfortably’’. It makes you realise how much this job really means to them.”

Next: When Craftswomen From A Remote Village In West Bengal Walked The Ramp At Lakmé Fashion Week

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