HYDERABAD: Age old handlooms have always managed to hold a special place in our hearts. Ten years ago, handlooms were considered outdated or one that made a hole in the pocket. Thanks to the Telangana State government’s initiatives to save the art from fading into oblivion, the handloom collections have now gained popularity, benefiting the skilled weavers and handloom enthusiasts. The masterstroke of making actress Samantha Ruth Prabhu the face of Telangana Department of Handlooms and Textiles has boosted up the value by a notch. With her Instagram stories speaking volumes about teaming up organic handlooms with contemporary styles, the art has seeped into the hearts of youngsters, thus making them opt for handloom over powerloom. Keeping up with the progress in the state, here is another entrepreneur who is redefining and re-innovating Kalamkari by giving it a dash of new hues with contemporary flavours to it.
Sangeetha Rajesh, 42, from Hyderabad is the owner of Kalamkari Festival by Looms, the only independent Kalamkari showroom in the city. Her journey as an entrepreneur began as a simple trader of ethnic outfits for about six months. Eventually, she realised that she was not offering a unique product in the market and chose to explore Kalamkari. “Finding artisans involved in crafting Kalamkari was a difficult task for me. I did not have enough knowledge about about garments them,” says the entrepreneur who traveled door-to-door in search of skilled artisans from Kalahasti. Sangeetha found the artisans painting motifs and borders on running fabrics that was not potentially commercialised. Her journey towards exploring Kalamkari had just begun.
Kalamkari established newer dimensions of clothing in the market when Sangeetha gave authentic Kalamkari garments a visually appealing touch by chopping motifs from the running fabric and transferring the motif into fabrics of fine quality and fresh colours. Her first collection of contemporary Kalamkari clothing consisted of Anarkalis, kurtis and sarees with an earthly colour palette including colours like mustard yellow, maroon, black and blue. To bring a blend in earthly and fresh colours, chemically formulated colours like orange, pink, purple and green were also added.
The Anarkalis saw the top panel made of Kalamkari fabric and the bottom panel made of kota silk whereas the kurtis were made out of south cottons like mangalagiri and ikat. Sarees were given a rich impression using north weaving materials like tussar, chanderi and raw silk. “We kept all feel-good factors in mind while selecting the right kind of fabric. Visually attractive either by pattern or colour, the touch of the material and importantly, how it fits the client.” said the experimental designer.
While Sangeetha catered her product in the true spirit of entrepreneurship by creating her own market, obstacles were a part and parcel of the journey. When she first put up her stall at public exhibitions, she could not attract customers as the fabric looked rather dull comparatively to the other flashy garments put up on the other stalls. As confident as she was about Kalamkari right from the conceptualisation of the idea, she only needed to cater to a specific target audience. ‘Sangeetha’s Kalamkari Festival’, her first solo exhibition saw its forthcoming in January, 2015 at Saptaparni, Banjara Hills, where only the cream of the crowd who had the love for Kalamkari as an art and it’s authenticity was seen. The clothing store’s facebook handle @SangeethasKalamkari is modeled by the designer herself with the spirit of a girl-next-door look and also to break the stereotype of Kalamkari being a product of the high-end market.
After building her customer base through exhibitions in Hyderabad, Chennai, Mumbai, Coimbatore, Kochi, Vijayawada and Vizag, Sangeetha came up with online exhibitions from July 2015 when she saw incoming demand from customers abroad. While she was playing monopoly in the market from 2015-16, she saw the widening of the Kalamkari market. As a result, sellers started replicating designs at a lower price using inferior fabrics. “Despite the competition, the authenticity I sold survived in the market. I kept my ways simple. I never compromised on the prices or the quality. The love for pure art persisted.” said the entrepreneur whose creativity beat all insecurities.
The Kalamkari plush’s attempt in reforming the handloom arena takes a newer name in terms of the ‘Kalamkari Luxury Collection’ that fuses two striking fabrics- Ikat and Kalamkari together. Ikat has been chosen over other fabrics owing to it’s classy and bold colours, patterns and geometrical designs.
When two rich fabrics come together, the art of bringing out the product in the right proportion is key. Without compromising on the beauty Ikat exudes, Kalamkari is enhanced on either the border, the top panel of the saree or the edge of the pallu, but not on the pleats. Artists sketch appliques, borders and motifs according to the colour combinations that match the saree.
“A customer has a million reasons to feel confident in a saree. The customer must pick the saree that calls them.” says Sangeetha who has also introduced the ‘Office-wear Collection’. Printed Kalamkari motifs that are easy to wear, wash and maintain along with comfort that goes with all schedules and professions are crafted under this collection. Easy breathable fabrics without any distractive or contrast colour, but only monotone colours with pastel shades and subtle combinations of kurtis and sarees can be expected. “Need is the mother of excellence. I’m ambitious and I have goals to reach” says the successful entrepreneur who learnt designing from mere customer behaviour.