Celebrated Indian fashion designer Anita Dongre, who works closely with artisans in villages, says technology can drive their craft in a big way in the near future.
Just earlier this month, Dongre launched a stand-alone store of Grassroot — one of her fashion brands focussed on celebrating Indian crafts in luxury pret — in Soho here.
One of the speakers on a panel on Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Ficci-IIFA Global Media Forum here on Friday, Dongre spoke about the challenges of working with artisans in villages and how technology helps to ease the process.
“Whatsapp helps… Weavers from Benares can just show me samples at a click over whatsapp while I am sitting in New York.
“So, I’d say Whatsapp is a saviour… There are remote villages like Barmer where phones still have to come in… but that’s where some NGO helps.
“They click pictures and share with us to get approvals. I am sure technology will drive craft too in a certain way,” the designer said.
With an experience of well over two decades in the Indian fashion industry, Dongre has multiple brands, each of which make optimum use of ‘desi’ elements.
Her designs are worn widely by celebrities, and was also famously flaunted by Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton during her India visit.
As a socially responsible designer, Dongre said: “I primarily today see myself as someone creating employment, and that too in rural India.”
She started Grassroot three years ago.
“There are some amazing artisans in the villages of Gujarat and Rajasthan… And they had reached the dead end because the artisans had the skill of embroidery, but they needed design intervention and a marketplace.
“That’s how Grassroot was born… Today for me, it is very gratifying that I am using everything that I know in design for the last 30 years, I am finally using all my experience as a designer to understand what a consumer needs, what a woman wants because I love making beautiful clothes and that’s what I am all about.
“But today not only am I now making beautiful clothes and making women feel lovely, but behind every garment that I make for Grassroot, there’s a beautiful story behind it… Of a proud artisan who has created that garment which is handwoven, hand embroidered, and is always done in a village of India.
“We are hoping to bridge beautiful artisanal handcraft from India and providing it in the marketplace in the west.”
About the challenges of pursuing this passion, Dongre said: “The challenge is that I work with a team of a really young team of designers.
“I have to encourage them to travel to rural areas… It is not easy sometimes, to go into vilages, stay there and work with them.
“The challenge that comes with an artisan is to understand the skill of the artisan. India is so diverse that every region has its own stitch and weave, and interesting characteristics… So, working within that technical of what the artisan can do and then adapting it to contemporary design is a challenge, but it’s rewarding.”