Return of the native

Honouring an age-old tradition, Moala Longchar of clothing brand Kintem gives the traditional Naga mekhala or wrap skirt a trendy spin, while retaining its unique back-strap weave.
The traditional Naga mekhala or wrap skirt a trendy spin
The traditional Naga mekhala or wrap skirt a trendy spin

Growing up amid yarns and yardage at her mother’s weaving business in Dimapur, Nagaland, Moala Longchar has Naga textiles ingrained in her psyche. It, however, took her nearly two decades of living away from home—first to study Mass Communication in Bengaluru, and then to pursue a career in public relations in the national capital—to realise how deep her connection was to them. Eventually, the strong umbilical cord pulled her right back, giving birth to clothing brand Kintem earlier this year, as an offshoot to her mother’s 25-year-old textile company, Wapangla Weaving Unit (WWU).

Meaning “communities” in the Ao Naga dialect, Kintem’s foundation lies in going back to the weavers already working with her mother. The idea is to change the perception of the indigenous mekhala (or the wrap skirt) by making it resonate with the present-day wearer, while still honouring the age-old techniques and knowledge, especially back-strap or loin loom weaving, stitching and natural dyeing.

All of Kintem’s fabrics are, therefore, woven on loin looms and then hand-stitched into modern silhouettes with classic Naga designs such as zig-zags, geometrics and züngijang—a cucumber seed pattern. The result is a stunning array of skirts, tops and jackets in earthy hues and chic silhouettes that look right at home, whether you wear them in corporate boardrooms or for casual outings.

As a brand rooted in authenticity, a deep appreciation for tradition, Longchar has also gone back to using pure cotton yarn and eri silk, something that had been discontinued over the years, thanks to the rampant use of cheap polyester and acrylic yarn.

Credit: Kekhriezalie Keretsu, SSA.JIN Studio
Credit: Kekhriezalie Keretsu, SSA.JIN Studio

Though the brand came into being only earlier this year, the seeds were planted almost five years ago, when the PR executive-turned-entrepreneur began participating in business exhibitions in Delhi on behalf of WWU. “I also took charge of its social media account, quickly realising that a deeper understanding of textiles and weaving was essential to truly represent the business,” says Longchar, who now divides her time between Delhi and Dimapur.

The more she explored the workings of WWU, she recalls, the bigger her passion grew for the heritage handlooms. While assisting her mother, she began experimenting with designs and motifs, earning rave reviews in the process. “Recognising the market’s demand for contemporary Naga fabric woven with thoughtfully chosen yarns, I saw an opportunity to combine my love for textiles with my professional expertise in brand communications, honed through years of working with retail brands,” says the designer, who has also handled the PR for the label, Shades of India, in Delhi. Thus, the switch from handling other people’s brands to creating her own was rather seamless.

Moala Longchar
Moala Longchar

Loin loom workers, explains Longchar, are mainly women. “Our collaboration primarily involves empowering home-based weavers, many of whom are housewives striving to supplement their family’s income, one piece at a time. A significant number of their husbands work as daily wage earners, making their contributions essential to make ends meet,” she says, adding that they largely worked on traditional designs before joining her initiative. “Transitioning to our designs, along with exposure to novel yarns and upfront payment without having to wait to sell the last piece woven has breathed new life into their work,” Longchar adds.

In fact, to further foster network expansion, the Kintem founder has been actively encouraging and remunerating the women who have been with her for nearly a year to train newcomers in their circles, passing on their unique skillset. This not only serves as an additional source of income for them, but also creates a fulfilling experience for all parties involved. Looking ahead, Longchar now intends to expand her repertoire to include contemporary Naga shawls as well as diversify into home textiles, accessories and more.

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The New Indian Express