The Lakmé Fashion Week Summer Resort 2017 (LFW SR ’17) kicks off today at the JioGarden in Mumbai’s upmarket commercial hub of Bandra Kurla Complex; and in a first tomorrow (2nd February 2017), patrons of fashion will see heritage Indian craft come to the forefront with the ‘Artisans of Kutch’ presentation held as part of LFW SR 17’s Sustainable Fashion and Indian Textiles Day (SFIT). Read on to find out how the organisers and the NGOs participating in this initiative pieced their ideas together.
This season, like every other, is slated to be a celebration of fashion that is commercial and traditional, and contemporary yet age-old. Season after season, Lakmé Fashion Week returns to the Maximum City with a promise to bring to the ramps something uncommon that celebrates fashion like no other. This season, Gautam Vazirani, Curator for Sustainable Fashion Initiative at IMG Reliance and an International Woolmark Prize Mentor 2016/17, along with Shruti Singh, Concept Designer and Visual Artist for Lakmé Fashion Week, visited Kutch in the hopes of digging talent that will create waves at the showcase. And they did. Kutch is a seeding ground where artisans and NGOs have been working together to create fashion using traditional crafts. LFW has always been supportive towards the Indian handloom and textiles and has been showcasing different craft sectors, season over season. This time, Kutch artisans seem to fit their bill perfectly.
Abdulaziz Khatri of Somaiya Kala Vidya dyeing a textile
Speaking on this initiative, Jaspreet Chandok, Head of Fashion at IMG Reliance for Lakmé Fashion Week SR ’17, says, “A key focus for the Lakmé Fashion Week has been to drive attention towards inclusivism. The platform is always in the media glare and we are happy to bring to the fore stories that will make a genuine impact in the lives of people.” This move by IMG has not only subverted the traditional norm of only ‘professionally qualified’ designers showcasing collections on the ramp while gifted craftsmen simply contribute to the execution of a collection; it has also provided traditional Indian crafts with the chance to reach a wider audience, and in turn, become sustainable. A total of seven artisans from Kutch, under the Somaiya Kala Vidya, and two independent award-winning master craftsmen will be showing their collections as part of the presentation. Shrujan, one of the most prominent craft-based NGO’s operating in Kutch will also be showing a special collection.
Somaiya Kala Vidya (SKV), a division of the KJ Somaiya Gujarat Trust, was founded in March 2014. About showcasing on a platform like LFW, Judy Frater, Founder Director of SKV, says, “I developed a program in design for artisans 11 years ago. The artisan students learn to design and innovate within their traditions. They make collections, and every year the course ends with a fashion show under the stars in Kutch. So, the idea isn't new but the opportunity here and potential impact are much bigger.” Frater has been working with artisans for over 25 years.
Artisan Aakib Khatri working on Ajrakh printing technique as Judy Frater looks on...
For this showcase, while SKV has stuck to a line of saris, Shrujan has worked on a line of modern women’s ensembles (also a line of saris, we’re told) with emphasis laid on embroideries. Shrujan holds exhibitions of readymade garments and saris all over India. They employ over 5,000 women across 100 villages and work with 16 different styles of embroideries. SKV’s collection of saris was created a few months ago, the last batch of which was created a little before the team left for Mumbai. Throwing light on why SKV chose saris, Frater says, “They (artisans) are basically textile designers. Garments are beyond their capacity for now. I wanted them to work on garments they understood and could produce. This is sustainability.” The line Shrujan will present was created by its trustee and designer Sudha Patel nearly six months ago.
A Shrujan artist working on embroidery
Planning this collection wasn’t the real hurdle. By Shrujan’s admission, the LFW team was always there to help them with the nitty-gritty. There were other stumbling blocks that needed to displace. For instance, SKV didn’t realise the prominence styling has when it comes to fashion. Frater informs, “The artisan designers hadn't thought of styling. They did think in terms of how the sari would be worn in conventional ways. The styling was done by the Lakme Fashion Week team.” She insists that next time “the artisan designers will think very differently.” It is this igniting of unthought-of ideas and parameters that, according to her, makes this opportunity to showcase at LFW so special.
For Shrujan, though, the task at hand was to ensure the whites remained white. Ami Shroff, Director, LLDC – Living and Learning Design Centre (part of Shrujan), elaborates, “The working model of Shrujan is that we reach the work to women at their homes, and collect it from them when it's done; the product can be with the women for a month or up to four months. The women work in their free time and if the load of work at home, the farm, or the cattle increases the embroidery is left aside for a while. It faces the danger of baby goats thinking it’s a snack or children deciding to try out their new pen or crayon on it.” From what we see and feel, it seems that at the end of it all, the artisans are more than happy to have gotten the opportunity to showcase at a platform as big as the fashion week.
Shrujan’s creations will be retailed in its stores in Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Kutch, and at its exhibitions. SKV’s creations can be bought by placing orders at the artisans’ homes in Kutch, or at the Design Craft shop promoted by Somaiya Agencies. It is situated above Kitab Khana in Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda area. From what Frater says, it is intended to be a venue exclusive for artisan designers.
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