Her commitment to creating culture-centric clothes spans well over four decades. From a nondescript unit in a village in Kolkata to establishing an internationally sought-after label, Ritu Kumar is one of India’s successful stories in the field of fashion. Deft at balancing retro and metro elements in her designs, she has survived fickle fashion winds on her own terms. She continues to work with weavers and craftspersons, trying out interesting updates on traditional textiles and embellishment. The 68-year-old designer who was recently awarded the Padma Shri talks about the honour and the challenges of using ethnic crafts in the contemporary context.

HELLO! WRONG NUMBER? It’s rare to see a name from the design fraternity feature in the Padma awards so it came as a pleasant surprise. First, I thought they had got the wrong number. The textile and design ethos of our country dates back many centuries. Apparently, 16 million people are involved in crafts originating from diverse traditions.

RIPPLE EFFECT My commitment to crafts spans 45 years. It’s been an enriching experience — too big a journey to put down in a few words. It’s like a pebble that’s thrown into a quiet pond. It creates gentle ripples. And the outcome is an indigenous handwriting that makes a difference to the fashion world.

REVIVAL, MY WAY Over the years, I’ve consciously integrated crafts into my designs. I’ve worked on a range of classical crafts and embroidery, printing and weaving techniques. Folk art and embroidery from Kutch, Andhra Pradesh and Lucknow have fascinated me. I’ve worked extensively with bandini, leheria, Kashmiri embroidery and a range of crafts originating from Jaipur. But more needs to be done. Our craft traditions are so vast, there’s a lot to be discovered.

FUTURE STOCK The road ahead is so long and wide. Hand skill is still the preserve of the high-end market. It’s that way in the rest of the world as well. The sheer number of people involved in crafts will ensure it survives. The biggest challenge of using crafts in the contemporary context is the cost factor. Crafts can be preserved only if the craftspersons are adequately paid and provided a better working environment.