The lightweight, airy Kota sari is a summer favourite. Traditionally, the Kota doria fabric is handwoven on pit looms using cotton and silk yarns to result in a unique chequered pattern. Textile history has it that the weave originated in Mysuru and was patronised by Maharao Singh Kishore, the ruler of Kota in Rajasthan. Pockets of weavers in Karnataka and Kaithoon, situated near Kota, in Rajasthan, adhere to the handloom method. However, most Kota doria saris and yardages now sold in the retail market are products of the power loom.
Gurugram-based Anjali Agrawal, a techie-turned-entrepreneur, who founded the label Kota Doria Silk (kotadoriasilk.com) in 2014 with a capital of ₹25,000 and has seen it grow to an annual turnover of ₹4 crore, says it was inevitable to use the power loom to make Kota doria affordable to middle-class buyers.
“There are very few handloom Kota weavers today and they are known for their expertise in weaving silk saris using silver and gold threads for zari. When I launched the business, I wanted the fabric to be affordable for day-to-day use for working women who prefer salwar suits to saris,” she says.
The label manufactures and sells cotton and silk Kota doria saris and suit fabrics that incorporate techniques of ajrakh, hand embroidery, Bagru and bagh prints, bandhej and lehriya tie and dye, and gota patti, among others. Contemporary digital prints on pastel-coloured fabrics also form a chunk of the collection.
Anjali is aware that puritans will not agree with the power loom approach, but points out the innovation she has spearheaded, to give the fabric a contemporary design aesthetic: “Buyers want variety and appreciate it when they see embroidery, Madhubani or Warli-inspired motifs, bagh or Bagru prints. Fabrics developed on power looms and screen printed involve fewer man hours and hence, are more affordable,” she reasons. To draw a comparison, she says a hand-painted Madhubani dupatta would approximately cost ₹3,000 while she can sell the same at ₹500 to ₹600 if the design was screenprinted.
Having grown up in Kota she would wear salwar suits in Kota fabric: “Each time I went home on vacation, I would bring Kota fabric for my friends and colleagues. There were so many requests since the fabric was not widely available a few years ago. But how much can I bring back in my suitcases?” she recalls.
She started a Facebook page in 2014 and within days, had enquiries and orders. In 2015, Kota Doria Silk website was launched and it now attracts 20 to 25 orders per day. “Before the launch, I met weavers in Kaithoon and other areas. I realised that we needed to innovate. We worked towards strengthening the fabric by changing the cotton-silk yarn ratio so that the fabric is compliant to the different techniques of printing and dyeing. Ajrakh on delicate Kota fabric is not easy. It involved more than a year of trials,” she says.
Anjali works with nearly 75 craftspeople, of which 50% are women, and engages with 25 looms: “The craftspeople are from different regions, specialising in various print, paint and embroidery techniques.”
Plans are also afoot to launch stores in Chennai and Trivandrum. “We are foraying into menswear and working towards increasing the supply of home furnishings, since we get orders from Dubai and European markets,” says Anjali, adding that she wants to introduce a section for handloom lovers later this year.