SANGEETHA DEVI DUNDOO
Khadi becomes softer and takes on rich hues of kalamkari for Lakme Fashion Week. Sangeetha Devi Dundoo meets Mamata Reddy, the lady behind the story
That khadi, the fabric of freedom, has transformed into fabric of fashion is old news. That designers have been making a statement at Fashion Weeks with fabrics that boast of intricate kalamkari work is also old news. What's new is the use of kalamkari on khadi.
On March 8, Hyderabad designer Sashikant Naidu will present his collection ‘Nature' as part of the summer resort wear theme at Lakme Fashion Week, with models dressed in fine khadi with kalamkari work. Sashikant has been working for a year developing this fabric with the help of Mamata Reddy.
The unassuming Mamata has been working with handloom weavers for 19 years. Before leaving for the LFW as part of Sashi's team, she gave us a preview of the fabric that's softer than regular khadi, “These fabrics have finer count — 100 or 120 counts of thread per inch as against the traditional 60 per inch. This fine khadi is suitable for summer.”
Getting the artisans to develop fine khadi was painstaking, she recalls. A year ago, she visited Ponduru in Srikakulam district, where khadi weaving is becoming a languishing art and the weavers, a diminishing breed. “Many weavers had moved on to other sources of livelihood. We had to coax them. They were reluctant since they felt we wouldn't return after getting one consignment. We had to assure them of regular purchases. It helped that Sashikant volunteered to focus on khadi for a year and Sabyasachi Mukherjee too showed interest,” she says.
Mamata's association with kalamkari dates back to 1991, when she felt urged to help artisans market their products to suit the fashion-savvy urban market. Over the years, she's helped artisans create new lines with kalamkari on pochampally, mangalagiri and even kanchi pattu.
Khadi, she feels, is better suited for kalamkari. “It absorbs vegetable dyes better and there's scope for vibrant colours.” Rather than regular indigos, deep reds and yellows, we see bright blues, greens and pinks in her studio. Stoles with floral patterns in double shades are sure winners. “We set up a loom and get regular supply of khadi from a family of weavers. We've asked them to step up supply now.” She is in talks with select outlets to sell these fabrics. The saris have floral patterns, episodes from Krishna Leela and Ramayana.
Mamata also sold nearly 100 stoles and a few saris at the Dastakar expo in New Delhi catering largely to expats. The stoles are priced Rs. 1500 upwards and saris Rs. 6000 upwards. She recalls a client in Hyderabad ordering 25 saris as wedding gifts. There are large floral khadi window panels too. Costing Rs. 18000, these were also picked up by customers. Mamata hopes the LFW opens up new avenues.
In recent years, Anand Kabra and Asmita Marwa too made use of her kalamkari for their LFW collections. “The panel that selected designers for LFW felt hesitant that Sashi would also be using kalamkari. Sabya stepped in and explained why kalamkari needs to be promoted.”
Mamata recalls how Sabyasachi made a trip to Hyderbad last month, jumped into an auto and shopped for AP handlooms from Numaish. He had sourced mangalagiri with kalamkari and ikkat from her, which are likely to be part of his LFW collections.