When Craftswomen From A Remote Village In West Bengal Walked The Ramp At Lakmé Fashion Week | Verve Magazine
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June 12, 2018

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

Text by Ojas Kolvankar

Designer Sayantan Sarkar collaborated with the artisans from the Mastikari cluster for USHA Silai’s CSR initiative at Lakmé Fashion Week Summer/Resort 2018. We look at how this unique alliance brought out the best in both parties involved

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.

This alliance saw Kolkata-based designer Sayantan Sarkar create modern, hand-embroidered ensembles with traditional batik prints enlisting the assistance of artisans from the Mastikari cluster in West Bengal. Sarkar shares with us his inspiration behind the collection and the impact of this unique collaboration on his design practice…

On collaborating with the Mastikari cluster…
“Having worked with clusters in remote villages across India and harbouring a particular fondness for travelling to bucolic places, the association with Usha Silai was a very natural extension of my philosophy. The idea behind this collaboration was not only to work with the artisans but also to create something that would perfectly encapsulate the ethos of the region. I have been working with crafts in West Bengal since the inception of my label and when I realised that Usha Silai had one of their clusters there, I thought I thought they could utilise my resources and capabilities.

The area where the cluster is located is primarily a creative artisan belt. The women from this region are quick learners and have also acquired intricate embroidery and hand-detailing skills. The only problem you face when you are working with the local market is that their knowledge of finishing and patterns is very rudimentary. Sometimes, it takes the better part of a day to make them understand why they need to pick stitching a blouse with better finishing in one and a half day over stitching two regular blouses in one day. Going that extra mile to make a product look as good on the inside as it appears on the outside is a crucial part of the process.”

The inspiration behind the collection…
“Titled ‘The Girl from the pages of the Diary’, our collection was fashioned after a 12th grader in the unit who would dress up very interestingly. During winter, she would wear her father’s pullover or her mother’s oversized cardigan, pair denim with kurtas and flaunt patialas and dhoti-pants. Since most of her kurtas were borrowed, there was no set pattern or size and I would secretly make a note of her style. It fascinated me that although the girl came from an orthodox background, she had beautifully progressive ideas about life. During one of our conversations, she expressed the desire to study in a co-ed college and improve her understanding of world affairs.

The general landscape of the region also played a role in stimulating the creative artist in me. During lunch breaks, we would go on walks in the village, which was surrounded by ponds, marshlands and bamboo plantations. I was enthralled by the lush greens and browns against the azure sky. The batik prints we developed were inspired by the foliage and the texture of the algae in the pond whereas the pleating and structure were influenced by barks and bamboos.”

Techniques employed for the collection…
“During the initial training period, I would create pieces in muslin to demonstrate to the artisans how it was possible to create interesting silhouettes using only fabric. I got them acquainted with my previous collections and educated them about how basic khadi and Jamdani could be translated into international ensembles with some extra effort and a slight alteration in the stitching process. Once, when I was draping the fabric directly onto a dress-form, they gathered around me to observe how I had created an entire garment by virtue of its drapes and went around proclaiming, ‘Today we have learnt fashion designing!’

I work with a lot of textures like pleating and pin tucking. The pieces that didn’t make the cut to the final collection were handed over to the artisans and I would ask them to beautify the ensembles. Their work made me realise that elements like mirror stitching, buttonhole stitching or blanket stitching could break the monotony of a garment.”

Learnings from the artisans…
“Working with women at the cluster had a drastic impact on the way I ran my own workshop. Generally, men are tasked with tailoring whereas women are responsible for the finishing or hand-work. After witnessing the potential of the women at the cluster — they produced the entire Lakmé Fashion Week collection within twelve days — I see myself employing more women. Rural areas need to be further explored as they are breeding grounds for indigenous talent, which can find a place in the burgeoning fashion industry in India.”

Impact on the artisans…
“I would like to believe that the most important takeaway for the craftswomen is the change in their outlook towards design. Amalgamating their skills, they put out a collection that catapulted them straight to the runways of Lakmé Fashion Week. The garments looked simple when they were in the process of being stitched but they completely transformed on the ramp. In a way, that was the idea I wanted to leave the artisans with — that a little bit of extra effort in the finishing of a simple garment can make all the difference.”

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