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June 13, 2018

The Women Of Ahmedabad’s Dholka District Used Almost No Electricity To Produce This Lakmé Fashion Week Collection

Text by Ojas Kolvankar

Soham Dave, whose label focuses on biodegradable fabrics and handcrafted items, worked with the differently-abled women of Ahmedabad’s Dholka district to create a collection that is sublime yet sustainable

Five young designers at Lakmé Fashion Week’s Summer/Resort 2018 edition joined hands with the 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.

Soham Dave, whose label focuses on biodegradable fabrics and handcrafted items, readily accepted  Lakmé Fashion Week’s invitation team to work with the women of Ahmedabad’s Dholka cluster. His investment in the project grew by leaps and bounds when he discovered that he would be interacting with differently-abled women who strove to support their families financially in spite of their disabilities. We spoke to Dave about this unique association and he expressed his gratitude at having had the opportunity to work with these artisans and improve their skill set so that they could generate higher incomes.

On collaborating with the Dholka cluster…
“Although my knowledge was limited, I was familiar with the cluster and was aware that the artisans were skilled in embroidery and aari work. When I first took up the project, I always knew that I would use their existing talents, but eventually, our alliance took a different direction. I focused on the silai details to create surfaces and different types of running stitches in minimal designs.”

The inspiration behind the collection…
“I grew up in a small town, around hundred kilometres from Ahmedabad. When we visited my grandparents, my grandmother would summon a tailor who would send his black-paddled machine ahead of his arrival and then turn up soon after. He’d stitch curtains and alter clothes that needed to be passed on to younger siblings. I would observe him stitching for hours on end; in fact, I can still recall the sound of his machine as clear as day.

When we went for our first visit, 15 to 20 women approached us to showcase their skills. I vividly remember how they set up their black-paddled sewing machines and got to work almost immediately. It transported me straight back to my childhood.”

Techniques employed for the collection…
“I created minimal designs that focused on the age-old principles of silai, sustainability and local weaves that are completely in line with what I do for my label and what I personally believe in.

A closer look at the garments will reveal that all the surfaces were created with different patterns on the same sewing machine. This served two purposes. Firstly, it generated more work for the women since everything was made on the same running machine and didn’t require dyeing or printing. Secondly, minimum electricity was utilised since everything was handmade or hand-crafted. The aim was to source everything locally, so I didn’t venture beyond the radius of 30 kilometres.”

Impact on the artisans…
“If you look at my creations, I continue to work with the same crafts year after year. I don’t really follow trends and I produce classics and wardrobe staples that last for years. I think I treasure this collaboration so much that I would actually love to adopt the cluster along with the people with whom I have worked.”

Learnings from the artisans…
“Razia, an artisan at the unit, is handicapped. She lost her leg in an accident. I worked closely with her over a period of six months — she started off with basic sewing skills but graduated to become one of the main artisans behind the collection. Razia spent eight hours a day at work while looking after her family despite the social and physical challenges she had to face. Not once did I hear her complain or give into pessimism. I would say that I haven’t learnt as much as a designer as I have as a human being — it has affected my overall approach towards work.”

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Next: Puducherry’s Craftswomen Are Overthrowing A Patriarchal Mindset By Designing This Lakmé Fashion Week Collection

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