Reviving the Kunbi

It’s not often that a long-forgotten weave gets a relaunch. Today, the members of Kai Thari, the online handloom platform founded by Sumita Pai, is launching Goa’s traditional Kunbi sari, at a private event in Mumbai. “We’ve long been interested in the sari, but last year, Savitha Suri, a member, and I decided we must do something now,” says Pai, adding that Suri scoured Goa for a weaver who knew the old weave and now 300 saris are in production.

But the story of the Kunbi had started a little earlier, with a designer twist. In the early 2000s, while researching his book Moda Goa, designer Wendell Rodricks realised that the Kunbi deserved a revival. The sari, a traditionally sturdy red-and-white chequered cotton, was worn by the Kunbi tribal women of Goa while working in the paddy fields. “The drape was shorter, held at one shoulder with a dentli knot,” says Rodricks. The advent of the Portuguese impacted most native dresses of the region, including the Kunbi. “Various edits of the inquisition (which began in 1560) did not approve of local clothing for the converted,” he says.

Reviving the Kunbi

For the revival effort, he roped in Poonam Pandit, a textile designer from National Institute of Fashion Technology, and Baburao Babaji Tilve, a Pernem-based weaver. “I landed here and was given a brief, but there was very little to take off from,” confesses Pandit, who now has her own label, Kalakar. She trawled through Goa, trying to find weavers who knew the traditional how to weave in the Kunbi tradition, and was lucky enough to stumble upon Tilve.

It took some time for Tilve, who was mostly making kashtis (loin cloths) on his worn-out loom, to warm up to her, she says. Once he agreed to work with them, “I’d lay out the design we wanted on a graph for him to understand the patterns,” she says, adding that the Kunbi collection that emerged included saris, scarves and stoles. While the essence of the sari has been retained, the Wendell Rodricks’ version of the Kunbi is different from the original. “I took what I liked — the lines and checks — but I also stripped away the dobby border, and used natural dyes,” he says.

Reviving the Kunbi

The sari was showcased at the 2011 Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week and has found its way into the wardrobe of a number of sari enthusiasts, including the Gandhi women and actor Nandita Das.

Rodricks, however, is disappointed that the Goan government is not supportive of the project. “I wish they would intervene,” he says. Yet he continues working at keeping the Kunbi alive because, “saris will always be a part of my collections and they retain the minimalist flavour and philosophy of the Wendell Rodricks label”.

The saris cost ₹7,500, at the Wendell Rodricks Design Space in Goa. 0832 2238177

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Printable version | Jun 9, 2021 8:04:48 AM |

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