Textile designer Rema Kumar weaves the tale of her journey in fabric
“I think every woman should wear a sari once a week. The grace a sari gives an Indian woman is beyond comparison,” says textile designer Rema Kumar. Draped elegantly in a peach sari with a double shaded pallu, you cannot help but agree with her.
“Have you noticed how people say ‘She has a nice collection of saris' and never ‘She has a nice collection of salwar-kurtas' or ‘She has a nice collection of Western wear?,'” asks Rema. “That is the power of a sari. It is classy and drapes beautifully on any woman.”
Rema's love affair with the sari began as a child. Her mother, Dr. Nandini, had a wonderful collection of saris. “My mother also tailored clothes for my sisters and me. I learnt to sew when I was in class nine. I was always into something to do with fabrics.”
Her love for fabrics led her to a post graduate degree in textile designing and clothing from Chennai. She then moved to Delhi where she started her career with home furnishings. After a stint abroad she returned and moved on to garments.
Her own line
Right now she is working with fabrics. Under her line ‘Rema Kumar,' she has collections of saris, duppatas, fabrics, stoles, and the like. She works with weavers from places such as Kancheepuram, Chhattisgarh, and Kedarnath. Rema has just completed working with handloom twill saris woven by Uttarakhand's shawl weavers. “They are lightweight but with the texture of a shawl.”
She goes on to add: “I have fun while designing my saris. I think I'm happiest when I see a sari off the loom and it looks as good or better than how I had visualised it. Whichever craft I use whether it is Kalamkari or Kanta or Patti work I don't take away its essence.”
Her fusing tradition with the modern is a bid to attract young women. “I realised that there are only a few youngsters wearing saris. I think one has to incorporate something contemporary into the sari so that these youngsters don't feel old in them. When I design a sari I design it so that it will look nice even when you wear it for a luncheon. You make a statement even if it is understated. Someone who has never worn a sari is tempted to buy the sari because it is simple, yet classy. It is all about the weave.”
However, the art of sari making is slowly on the decline.
“In 10 years, these ethnic Indian weaves may die unless the wages of weavers are increased. Even today, it's the middleman who takes a whole chunk of the money. The weavers only get Rs. 200 per sari. As a result, not many youngsters are interested in entering the field of their ancestors.”
Rema runs a store in Delhi called Add Ons with her husband, Punnet Kaushik, who is an artist. The outlet sells exclusive products in Indian arts, crafts, and handloom.
Ask her whether she plans to start a boutique selling her line of clothes in the city and she replies: “Not as yet. Maybe when my nine-year-old daughter, Yeshaswini, is older.”
So, does Yeshaswini take after her mother? Laughs Rema: “She has travelled with us to all the artisan villages. She does know the different fabrics and works and has a slight artistic streak in her. As for whether she will take up my line of work, I am not sure.”
The designer, who likes to think out of the box, plans to design Western wear next.
“I just got back from Kolkata where I met these old Marwadi ladies who till recently wore only saris. They mentioned how they have started finding it cumbersome, especially while travelling and have also started wearing trousers. When I started my career, I did shirts, tunics and so on with good clean cuts, so there is this desire to do a fresh collection of tunics and so on. I think it will do well,” says Rema.
The designer was in the city to introduce her line of collection in the city. The two-day event was organised by Varnachitra. Saying that the response to her collection was good, Rema promises to be back soon with a new range.
I belong to Nemom. I studied at Mar Gregorios School, Nemom. My sister and I used to cross paddy fields to school. There were so many places to play. My family moved to Chennai when I was 12. I did my schooling, college and masters in textile in Chennai. Then we moved to Delhi. I have been in Delhi for the last 18 years now. My parents are settled in Chennai.