While many Indian fashion brands can be credited for putting Indian fashion on the global map, there are others who have given the forgotten Indian Cloth And the respect and recognition they deserve at the global level – Ritu Kumar’s house takes home the title.
Helmed by the ‘megastar of Indian fashion’, craft revivalist, and design stalwart Ritu KumarAwarded with Padma Shri award, the brand’s exemplary 53 year long trajectory is built on an unshakable foundation – The Dictionary of indigenous clothingPrints, craft forms, and embroidery.
In an exclusive chat with this outlet, the fashion designer takes a look at her journey, starting with two table and four hand block printers in Kolkata, 93 retail stores across the country, 5 sub-brands, and about the growth Talks too. of ‘Indian’ fashion. Edited excerpt:
Did you envision the brand being established that way, or did it exceed your expectations?
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You see, we are talking about 60s, which is post-independence. I got a scholarship to study art history in New York, and during my studies, I realized that we never taught the history of Indian art in our curriculum. So, when I came back to India, I joined the Ashutosh Museum in Calcutta for a curatorial course in which we also studied the aesthetics of Indian painting, sculpture, etc. And as part of this journey, I happened to go on a archaeological dig at a place called Chandraketugarh, And thus, I slowly came to know that I had probably arrived at one of the stages which, perhaps, is responsible for the evolution of Indian fashion today. The British came there, so the Dutch and the French also came, and they all had Colonies down the river and exported silk from Bhagalpur, and exported cotton from Dhaka; I’m talking about the 16th-17th centuries, an era that was largely responsible for fashion in Europe and probably around the world. but, We had no book or record of what was being built in Bengal 200 years ago. So, I embarked on a strange journey – I went from museum to museum all over Europe, especially in France and England because those were the two big countries that were exporting, and dug indian print from their museums Which they will sell to me for a certain amount. I brought them back, reworked, and expanded them into the printing unit I started.
But then there was no place to sell goods. Even the ten saris we made didn’t know where to sell; There were no retail spaces or even any cottage industries. Colonial rule took away all his craft works from the country, was taxed exorbitantly, and he took all these prints and replicated them across Europe. Actually, there is a town named ‘Paisley’ in Scotland which was a real rip-off, and he wrote volumes on the studies he did,
So did I see that happen? No… What we are seeing in India today is a miracle, but I realized that India is sitting on a treasury of designs. Despite collecting five, I I’ve never encountered a situation in which I have no design to find, because somewhere in this country, every little village and town, has unrecorded, unseen garments.
After working with them so closely and extensively for decades, do you continue to be inspired by the clothes of India?
Absolutely. One, there was a lot of nationalist fervor when I started. Mind you, (Mahatma) Gandhi used cloth as a political tool – this has never happened – so Khadi It was something we used to love. We used to wear Khadi and Kolhapuri chappals, we used to print Jaipur kurtas and bag for college, and we grew up during a time when thinking that none of these craftspeople would have a job wasn’t really acceptable, so someone kept doing it. The more I traveled, the more I realized what we had lost. I did zardosi Revival, hand block printing, I did a leather line and home furnishings in Calcutta. And not just me, there was a battery of people who really put their heart and soul into it.
In the olden days, for a woman to set up and run a fashion brand and grow it on this scale, it had to come with its own challenges. Do you think the struggle for women in the fashion industry still exists?
It is a very tough business when it comes to design and fashion in this country. And when you talk about the women in it, they face the same challenges that any woman at work faces – kids, home, travel, and constantly making choices about your timing. But what pushed me to move forward was seeing a change in the field I was working in. Like in Gujarat, where we were working.Women had bank accounts, they became self-sufficient. Same in Lucknow. These are all stories, which people did not even know about starting in the 70s and 80s. I think if Indian designers and craftsmen have brought it to this level it is very well deserved as it was quite difficult at that time – You had to walk miles, you didn’t know where you were living, there was no phone, no transportation, no place to sell…
Reliance Retail acquired 52 per cent stake in Ritu Kumar Group. Why did you flag off this alliance and how are the dreams of both the companies coming together?
It was because my son said to me ‘How long are you going to run this as a mom and pop shop?’ And true, because I had collections that were so big and huge, and I was barely using a small percentage of them. That’s why we got our first investment opportunity from Everstone Capital A few years back, my son kept 2-3 more collections – One for young people, another for daily wearetc., because they had the finances to pursue it. I really wanted almost every person in this country to understand what I have learned about Indian clothing, and the talent of printers and embroiderers in this country, and that is not possible unless your Do not combine You can have ten stores, and that also has limits.
Indian fashion has undergone major changes in the last two years. Do you think the perception and image of ‘Indian fashion’ has changed?
When I went abroad, I realized that people were completely unaware of India and its very specific role in textiles, which is very individualistic and came from an organic root. India’s colonial image was that men were dressed like mystics And women like tribals. There was no appreciation or understanding of the draping or even the cutting and layering of our clothes. It was a colonial idea that India is a fascinating place to get ideas for design, When I said, “No, we wear these things,” it was almost a surprise. And it’s taken forever to change that mindset.
And this Epidemic has certainly brought us closer to such a size and styles Which India has always worn. This is because structure and brainwashing were not necessary; It became very individualistic, especially with the youth, due to exposure to the rest of the world, which was doing a lot of buying and selling at the time. indian print,
For a brand with scale like Ritu Kumar, how do you deal with sustainability?
None of these designs are mine, I still go back in history for my collection. I have researched and sourced things which is from 1000-2000 years, vegetable dyes There have been and weaving has been around, so what I did is underline the fact that these were masterpieces of our continent’s designs. Being an artist, I can recreate them, I can get a strap of fabric from a museum in Europe and recreate it for an Indian person.
woohen i started mine hand block printingThere was no paisley to look at, no limits, no booties When I did my first slot of printed saris at Murshidabad Silk, people from Surat and Banaras came to use them as designs for their mills. Suddenly, we saw Indian motifs in the Indian market, so there’s a plus and a minus in all of this.
What part of your job excites you to this day?
People come to sell me old clothes almost on a weekly basis. At the time when palaces were being demolished and warehouses were being emptied, people were selling beautiful pieces and turning to synthetics… and every time a lot comes to me, I focus on quality, on variety. am amazed and what excites is not the end of me because i know it is not in the market and i would like reintroduce it, And, of course, India is a very dramatic country. We love to dress up for every function or every festivalNot many countries have the capacity to consume and enjoy so much clothing. It doesn’t mean you need to have size zero or a certain age, The most beautiful saris are worn by older women, so this is also another amazing thing of this country.
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