Re­cast­ing Sam­balpuri

Man­isha Chawda, a tex­tile de­signer from NID and the founder of Neeli Titlee, a brand that spe­cialises in cre­at­ing scarves wo­ven by Sam­balpuri weavers in western Odisha, shares her jour­ney with Brinda Gill.

Apparel - - Contents -

A pro­file of Man­isha Chaw­daw, tex­tile de­signer and Founder of Neeli Titlee

HOW DID YOU DE­CIDE TO STEP INTO THE FASH­ION IN­DUS­TRY?

I wanted to be­come a tex­tile de­signer ever since I was in the eighth grade and I con­tin­ued to work to­wards that di­rec­tion through­out my aca­demic years. I grad­u­ated in Tex­tile De­sign from Ma­haraja Saya­ji­rao Uni­ver­sity (MSU), Baroda and then worked hard to get into the Tex­tile De­sign Pro­gramme at Na­tional In­sti­tute of De­sign (NID), Ahmed­abad for my post-grad­u­a­tion. NID was the best thing that hap­pened to me. It opened doors to a vast pool of knowl­edge, ide­olo­gies and ex­tremely ta­lented fac­ulty mem­bers and peers.

HOW DID YOU GET IN­TRO­DUCED TO SAM­BALPURI IKAT?

I first got in­tro­duced to Sam­balpuri ikats dur­ing my eight-month long project in a small town in western Odisha dur­ing my NID days. It was one of the Clus­ter De­vel­op­ment Projects spon­sored by United Na­tions In­dus­trial De­vel­op­ment Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UNIDO) in a small town in the Sam­balpur re­gion. The project brief in­cluded craft re­search, mar­ket sur­vey and de­sign de­vel­op­ment with the weaver groups whose liveli­hood came from weav­ing Sam­balpuri ikat saris and fab­rics.

HOW DID YOU DE­CIDE TO START NEELI TITLEE?

The seed for Neeli Titlee was sown dur­ing the project. Once I un­der­stood the craft, I was able to train the weavers to make prod­ucts that were rel­e­vant for the present day mar­ket. Since there is a high value of Sam­balpuri prod­ucts lo­cally, the

weavers never had to worry much about sell­ing it out­side Odisha. How­ever, it was ben­e­fi­cial for them to cap­ture the out­side mar­ket for added rev­enue and ex­po­sure. My role was to fill in the gap be­tween the in­dige­nous craft and the de­mand of a con­tem­po­rary cus­tomer.

The out­come was ex­tremely suc­cess­ful and the jury mem­bers in­clud­ing Laila Tyabji ap­pre­ci­ated the col­lec­tion of stoles and du­pat­tas made dur­ing the project. I was also asked to con­tinue the work with the weavers if pos­si­ble. Even though I was tempted, I thought it was apt to gain some in­dus­try ex­po­sure be­fore I head back to the craft sec­tor. After grad­u­at­ing, I started my ca­reer in an ex­port house and then moved on to a block print­ing com­pany in Jaipur since de­sign­ing prints is my sec­ond pas­sion, the first be­ing ikat. After work­ing there for a few years, I tran­si­tioned to a free­lancer and even­tu­ally re­con­nected with the weavers back in Odisha and founded Neeli Titlee.

WHAT MAKES SAM­BALPURI IKAT DIF­FER­ENT FROM OTHER IKATS PRO­DUCED IN THE COUN­TRY?

The mo­tifs of Sam­balpuri ikats are ex­tremely elab­o­rate, curvilinear and fluid as against ikats from other re­gions. Se­condly, the ex­tra thread fig­ur­ing in the bor­der, aan­chal, and some­times main field of Sam­balpuri saris/fab­rics makes them very unique.

HOW DID YOU DE­CIDE ON DE­SIGN­ING SCARVES OF SAM­BALPURI IKAT?

Ikat is among the very few hand-wo­ven tex­tiles that are both-sided and I re­ally make sure that our prod­ucts make the most of this prop­erty. I also con­sider Sam­balpuri ikat to be ex­tremely pre­cious and con­sciously try to avoid any wastage. Keep­ing these point­ers in mind, scarves came to me as the most log­i­cal prod­uct so­lu­tion for ikat. It also helped that Sam­balpuri fab­rics are mostly wo­ven in very fine mer­cerised cot­ton yarn which ren­ders them very soft and pli­able, ideal for mak­ing scarves.

THE MO­TIFS OF SAM­BALPURI IKATS ARE EX­TREMELY ELAB­O­RATE, CURVILINEAR AND FLUID AS AGAINST IKATS FROM OTHER RE­GIONS.

An­other very im­por­tant and hon­est rea­son is that it re­ally made sense as a prod­uct be­cause we could get mul­ti­ple de­signs with a very tiny bud­get at hand. Scarves are the best way to ex­plore a tex­tile tech­nique and that is how I started. Along the way, I re­alised that it is such a ver­sa­tile prod­uct. You could make it into any size and it would still work as a beau­ti­ful ac­ces­sory for tra­di­tional as well as western at­tire. You could make it big enough to be used as a du­patta, nar­row to be used as a stole, tinier to be wrapped around your neck or square-like to be thrown on your shoul­der for a stylish look.

We are al­ready mak­ing stoles, du­pat­tas, nar­row as well as square scarves and would like to add on a lot many styles to our prod­uct line in the near fu­ture. Our stan­dard stoles are 2 me­tres long and 22 inches wide, and we get 12 scarves of the same colour and de­sign from one warp. Even though scarves will al­ways be our first love, we are work­ing on build­ing up a bou­quet of prod­ucts that are aligned with our ba­sic ide­ol­ogy. The lat­est in the queue are saris, pon­chos and kaf­tans.

DE­SCRIBE YOUR DE­SIGN PROCESS.

The first sketches/ideas for my col­lec­tions are worked out in my stu­dio at Cal­i­for­nia, US. I send them to the mas­ter weaver I work with on email or What­sApp to get his opin­ion on it. My weavers are based in Bar­garh district in western Odisha which was a part of Sam­balpur two decades ago.

We dis­cuss the de­signs on phone and some­times a sec­ond draft is re­quired after the weaver’s feed­back. He can tell with his years of ex­pe­ri­ence that maybe a few de­sign el­e­ments won’t show up well and I try to find a work­around while mak­ing the sec­ond draft.

Once the de­signs are fi­nalised, the weaver starts work­ing on the de­signs. The first step is to tie-dye the threads. Once the threads are ready and stretched on the loom, I visit the weavers and we work to­gether on cre­at­ing the sam­ples. The fun with work­ing hands-on is that I end up get­ting ideas that would have never ap­peared while plan­ning the de­sign in my stu­dio. Once the first sam­ple is made, it is eas­ier for the weavers to repli­cate it with­out my pres­ence.

The fin­ished prod­ucts are sent to our Ahmed­abad of­fice where my team gets them fin­ished with trims and edg­ings and the prod­ucts are dis­trib­uted to var­i­ous mar­ket­ing chan­nels from here. Our scarves are avail­able on our web­site www.neel­i­ti­tlee.com. We also have a re­tail out­let at Baaya De­sign, Mum­bai and

O.M.O, Mum­bai and Goa. We also fea­ture our prod­ucts on www.jay­pore.com oc­ca­sion­ally. We are plan­ning on com­ing out with a lot of new prod­ucts in fu­ture and a lav­ish shop for the cus­tomers abroad.

ANY THOUGHTS TO SHARE ABOUT THE FIN­ISH­ING OF THE SCARVES.

After the scarves are wo­ven, they go through an elab­o­rate process of check­ing and fin­ish­ing. A well-fin­ished prod­uct is a plea­sure to have and we are ex­tremely finicky about it. We add trims and edg­ings to them ac­cord­ing to the theme of the col­lec­tion.

HOW DO YOU SE­LECT MO­TIFS FOR THE SCARVES?

I fol­low two dif­fer­ent de­sign ap­proaches. The first ap­proach is all about re­tain­ing the tra­di­tional flavour of the craft in terms of mo­tifs and play­ing around with other de­sign el­e­ments like colour, tex­ture, place­ment of the mo­tifs, etc. Of­ten, it also helps to re-in­tro­duce a few his­tor­i­cally used el­e­ments that are for­got­ten for no rea­son, just be­cause they weren’t used for the long­est time.

My sec­ond ap­proach is all about ex­plor­ing ikat as a tech­nique. While fol­low­ing this ap­proach, I do not worry too much about us­ing the tra­di­tional mo­tifs. I have learnt a lot about Sam­balpuri ikat from these weavers along the way and ev­ery­thing they say adds on to my knowl­edge. I also keep read­ing as much as I can on ikats in gen­eral. This knowl­edge gives me the wis­dom to re­spect the con­straints of the craft tech­nique and yet en­joy the free­dom to play around and have fun with my creativ­ity. Sur­pris­ingly, the weavers also like and sup­port my ideas.

PLEASE COULD YOU TELL US ABOUT THE YARNS USED?

We use two-ply fine mer­cerised cot­ton yarn and some­times we use silk as well. These yarns are pro­cured from the lo­cal mar­ket by the weavers. We use vat dyes which are eco-friendly and azo-free. Nat­u­ral dye­ing process hasn’t been a suc­cess with the weavers yet be­cause it is dif­fi­cult for these dyes to pen­e­trate through the tied por­tions, but the ex­per­i­ments are still in progress.

ANY MEM­O­RABLE MO­MENTS YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE.

When my teacher and guide Aditi Ran­jan looked at our prod­ucts and ap­pre­ci­ated my work, it felt like an ac­com­plish­ment.

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