A Stitch in Time: The brands aiding the preservation of endangered Indian craft traditions and textiles
The treasury of craft traditions and practices in India are a priceless gift to the country from our ancestors. With a karigar population stronger and bigger than any other in the world, the magnitude of its scale and its omnipresence often leads to under-representation of these craft clusters. These craftspeople work relentlessly to keep decades-old traditions alive in a hyper-mechanized world, often with marginal pay, little or no appreciation, and scanty job security. However, thanks to some custodians in the fashion industry, not only is the craft being talked about but the hands behind the creations are also being brought under the limelight. Following is my list of some of the Indian brands whose relentless efforts have taken India’s age-old craft traditions and made them cool again, long before #Vocal4Local was trending.
1. Anita Dongre
The House of Anita Dongre is one of the few shining examples of a homegrown brand to have established a global retail presence and dressed the likes of the Duchess of Cambridge and Hillary Clinton. Built with the foundations of Indian craft traditions and sustainability initiatives, its signature design approach for all its five sub-brands is to merge Indian craft and textiles effortlessly into prêt wear that is globally relevant yet rooted in the country’s ethics. The House of Anita Dongre employs female artisans from six villages of Maharashtra, employing 200 people from a region that has long struggled with unemployment and poverty.
In a journey that started in August 2018 after Karan Torani launched his eponymous label, the designer has built a niche that is poetic, effortlessly lucid, and distinguishably Torani. His creations, which have a time-stopping quality unlike any other, are hand-crafted in a fashion that is nostalgic of how clothes must have been made half a century back. With a single-sighted focus on Indian crafts, lush textiles, and exquisite Sindhi silhouettes, the designer has championed the more-is-more approach to Indian clothing which has won the praise of tinsel town’s who’s who.
If any Indian brand has championed showcasing Indian textiles and taking it to the streets of New York, Tokyo, London, and beyond, it is Rina Singh’s Eka. With silhouettes that flow seamlessly from day to night and season to season, her creations are a study in understated design that speaks volumes through its craftsmanship and construction. Her collection at Lakme Fashion Week Summer Resort ‘20 was a collaboration with Telangana State Handloom Weavers’ Co-operative Society, retracing handloom and Ikat craft clusters from remote parts of the state, highlighting the designer’s nuanced study of the country’s unique textiles and craft forms.
4. Rahul Mishra
Master couturier Rahul Mishra’s strict and meticulous emphasis on the artisans that make his runway-ruling couture and highlighting the painstaking craftsmanship has taken him to the highly prestigious Haute Couture Week in Paris this year. The designer has, through every collection, increasingly focused on the Pandora’s Box that is the craftsmanship potential of India and its ability to take on Haute Couture in Paris. Mishra has helped empower remote communities in India by employing local textile artisans, bringing their traditions to modern tailoring and European cuts and silhouettes, an appeal that drives the brand’s massive commercial success across the globe.
Two textile revivalists who have long been the pioneers in showcasing what are now endangered textiles unique to India, Swati and Sunaina’s designs are more than just visual treats. Working with the last remaining workshop in Benaras and a handful of the remaining karigars adept in the craft of zari, Swati and Sunaina’s latest collection of tissue saris are drape-able pieces of heirloom art. From the brocaded handlooms of Benaras, jamdanis, and rangkaats to gyasers, this duo has been bringing back Indian luxury in its purest form.
6. Raw Mango
Sanjay Garg’s nuanced understanding of the contemporary potential of India’s textiles is a lesson in contemporizing old, forgotten traditions without compromising their essence. The designer has not only brought the Benarasi weave back to mainstream attention but has reimagined it in a way that is honest to its roots yet modern in its potential. Raw Mango’s latest bridal collection, Moomal, is a deep dive into Rajasthani culture and weddings and the collection is a striking compendium of Indian crafts and textiles, with a focus on the rich heritage of his home state, Rajasthan.
Few others can claim to have the daringly contemporary and experimental approach as Ekaya when it comes to Benarasi weaves and motifs. With an unparalleled signature that modernizes this ornate craft form for the global audience, Ekaya explores the possibilities of traditional weaving techniques and embroideries in a relevant context. Signature brocades along with silks, cotton, georgettes, chiffons, tusser, organza, mashru silks, and chikankari hand-embroidery frequent its collections.
Names like Sabyasachi, Manish Malhotra, Ritu Kumar, and Amit Aggarwal, among others, have long been standing guard of the precious karigari of Indian craft traditions that are practiced in remote clusters across the country. They have taken individual craftsmanship to red carpets across the world in an effort to preserve them for future generations as well.