Puducherry-based Upasana attempts to revive the country's traditional textiles through its diverse range
Fashion seems to have developed a conscience of its own, these days. It aims at being eco-friendly; it sometimes supports a cause; or becomes a medium that transforms people's lives. Upasana, in Puducherry, is one such brand with a mission. It was launched in 1997 with the objective of representing India through its textiles, and reviving traditional designs and creativity by empowering the local artisans. But after the tsunami in 2004, Upasana got involved in projects that reached out to people and touched their lives.
Traditionally clad, with two ponytails and a smiling face… say ‘hello' to Tsunamika, a little handmade doll. She may not have lustrous, long hair, a bejewelled tiara or a fancy outfit; yet this humble doll manages to bring a smile not only to the faces of her creators but also to anyone who sees her. “We started Tsunamika as a way of trauma counselling fisherwomen affected by the Tsunami. They were taught to make the dolls,” says Uma Haimavati, founder, Upasana. The raw materials for the project come from industrial waste. Around 500 women were trained to make the dolls; some of them took it up as a means of livelihood.
Uma's next venture has been to protect the weavers' community in Benares. “The looms in Benares are slowly falling silent. The weavers there resort to selling vegetables or become construction labourers because of lack of work. Varanasi Weavers aims at helping them continue their traditional profession,” explains Uma.
She feels women these days wear Benarasis only on special occasions. Besides the high cost of weaving these saris, the change in people's dress preferences and work demands are reasons why this wonderful fabric is going out of favour. Upasana has addressed this issue by creating a semi-formal range that can be worn to work everyday. This way, a Benares need not be acquired just for one's trousseau. The Varanasi Weavers' collection comprises kurtis, tunics, tops, skirts, jackets, dupattas and stoles in bright shades.
“Let's have a piece of Benares in our wardrobe. Even if a million people in India buy a Benares, we can solve the weavers' problem,” says Uma, whose efforts have instilled a sense of self-respect in the weavers.
This month, Upasana launched its latest venture — Paruthi. An extension of its former project Kapas, which is in collaboration with the Bestsellers Fund, Denmark and the Covenant Center for Development, Madurai, it attempts to protect the cotton communities of Tamil Nadu. It follows a business model that improves the income of the cotton farmers. “Paruthi is India's local organic brand. We want to make quality cotton products for the domestic market, and not for export,” says Uma. The Paruthi range consists of clothing for men, women and children, besides home accessories. Each product is made using unbleached cotton. Only organic dyes are used. “What you wear is a message. By wearing a Paruthi garment, you are caring for India, its farmers and the environment,” says Uma. This is Upasana's unique way of rendering service to the country. Uma signs off, saying, “We are riding the wave of fashion to pass on a social message.”
Upasana's other projects include Small Steps, an all-India project against plastic pollution and an effort to restore Tranquebar and promote it as a cultural tourism destination.
In Chennai, they are available at Kalpa Druma, Shanti's, Saahaagika, Amethyst and Silk Route.