Of earthy tones & fabrics

Of earthy tones & fabrics

Local weaves

Of earthy tones & fabrics

Three words: ‘Indian heritage textiles’ is all that is required to get her eyes twinkling and her face erupting into a rapturous smile. “Our handwoven textiles are so rich, so beautiful! I can never get tired of the magnificence of our traditional weaves. And we can do so many things with them. We can keep them simple, stick to the age-old traditional patterns, or change them into the most contemporary designs. The clothes look simply scintillating,” gushes Mumbai-based designer Vaishali Shadangule.

She is one of the few young designers who are working continuously with grassroot-level weavers, karigars and hand embroidery people to boost and keep alive our traditional looms, weaves, and crafts. When one converses with the earthy-looking designer, who is always attired in the typical desi girl style with a large red round bindi, gajara-filled flowing mane and quintessential six-yard sari, one should be prepared to hear only about chanderi, kand, ikat, maheshwari, paithani, jamdani, and other Indian weaves.

Looking within

“Where is the need to opt for non-traditional weaves?” questions Vaishali. “Nearly two decades into designing, I still have to learn, explore and experiment with a plethora of our weaves. Taking them to the national and international platforms, making the young and old women in the world get hooked on to the richness of our heritage textiles, and what we can do with them, is something I thoroughly enjoy.”

Her client list includes Bollywood actors, wives of cricketers, other society women, collegians and ordinary homemakers. She not only uses silks, but also khadi, cotton, mulmuls etc, which make it easy to be worn for any festive season and even ordinary daily wear.  

It was her tryst with Indian heritage textiles that took her to the fashion world of New York last September. Showcasing for the first time on a world platform, and that too clothes made in a contemporary style to suit the Western palette with jamdani, chanderi and maheshwari weaves, and the traditional textiles from Bengal and Madhya Pradesh was what got her excited. Her SS17 collection titled ‘And Quiet Flows The Thread’ at New York Fashion Week with FTL Moda got tremendous accolades. The collection had everything — short dresses, corsets, flowing gowns done up in flares, pleats, thread, knots and cords. Topping her joy was when she dressed Reshma Qureshi, a teenage acid victim survivor from India, who walked the ramp for her.

“Reshma is beautiful, courageous and she was part of FTL Moda’s mission to #TakeBeautyBack, a collaboration of Global Disability Inclusion and Fashion Week Online,” explained the designer.

Showcasing at fashion weeks isn’t something new for this designer. It was the 2011 Summer Resort Lakme Fashion Week, her debut on the ramp, when she made heads turn with her first collection. It was great to see models sashaying down the long ramp attired in colourful, mesmerising chanderi and paithani textiles.

For the first time, these textiles were draped in forms other than the traditional saris. She had salwar kameezes in contemporary style, ghagras, gowns, and of course, saris. That show really intrigued the audience and announced her arrival on the fashion scene. After her debut, there have been more than 16 such fashion weeks where she has presented her collection.

“I had always wanted to be in LFW and I did everything, including doing a post-graduation diploma course from a fashion design school from Delhi, because to showcase at these prestigious fashion shows, one needs to be an alumni of fashion schools. Even though I had a daughter, I decided to complete this course. I used to fly down from Delhi during the weekends, and during the week, my husband stepped in to take care of our daughter,” recalls Vaishali.

Her interest in handlooms and traditional weaves started in her childhood in the small town of Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh. That was the time when women around her were draped in only handloom saris and she was fascinated by it. And this fascination became her passion when to pursue her obsession, she defied her family to head to Bhopal and then Mumbai to enter the world of clothes.

Even when she was working from a very small attic-like outlet in Malad, a far flung suburb of Mumbai, she stuck to making dresses from handlooms and traditional textiles. From the days of Malad to today, when her address reads: Geeta Villa, Perry Cross Road, Bandra, there is a small footnote — next to Sachin Tendulkar’s residence! That is one helluva journey of success, wealth and fame.

Dedicated approach

This kind of success comes from hard work and an unwavering belief in oneself. There is no half-way attempt in her work. For example, when she decides to use a particular weave for her design, she makes it a point to go and stay with the weavers of that region for weeks and teach them her designs. In turn, she experiences their hardships and helps open a market for their products in the mainstream world.

Take the case when Vaishali decided to use jamdani textiles for the New York show. She stayed with a weaver family in an interior village in West Bengal. “I was a guest of the family for a week. They live in a small village surrounded by nature. The husband and wife both weave and the only way to work with them is to follow their daily life discipline. They wake up at four in the morning. Their entire approach to life is simple and minimalistic.”

She continues, “I was overwhelmed by the experience and realised the mad mundane routine of modern city life. From growing their own vegetables to farming for food and weaving the cloth has made them so independent that they don’t have a feeling of lacking. Their connection with their surroundings is so strong that after every few minutes, they can tell you about something new by looking at the sky or by hearing a sound. Along with managing the daily chores, they weave continuously.” Vaishali had also done this when she was working with kand in Karnataka, paithani in Maharashtra and of course, when she works with her home town weaves of chanderi and maheshwari.  

Keeping the traditional weaves intact, she asks the weavers to weave designs that suit her clothes like jackets, pants, tunics, skirts, dresses of varying lengths, drapes, layering, and silhouettes. She also encourages them to use different colour dyes wherever possible. This helps the weavers to contemporise their work without compromising on their age-old techniques.

“This is the only way we can create a mainstream market for our traditional weavers, which in turn will keep our rich textiles alive,” signs off Vaishali Shadangule.