Vijayalakshmi Nachiar | Ethicus
“Do you notice the dash of sage green on the plumage?,” asks Vijayalakshmi , pointing to the bird on her computer screen. We are at Ethicus Studio in Pollachi, an organic and farm-to-fashion sustainable brand, launched 10 years ago by the husband-wife team of Mani Chinnaswamy and Vijayalakshmi Nachiar. Vijayalakshmi, the creative head of Ethicus is talking about her collection of sarees called Crossroads, inspired by the famous Madras Checks and the birds of the Western Ghats. “The red jungle fowl is a common bird you see in Topslip. It has to be the prettiest. Just look at the striking colours, the reds, yellows, oranges and the blacks...Nature’s colour palette is mind boggling,” she says.
The couple, who recently completed a birding course at the Bombay Natural History Society, says the course opened a whole new journey. “We have to thank our friends Dhiren and Raji Sheth for that. It’s fascinating. Right from identifying a bird based on the body shape, size of the beak, colours, breeding plumage, the bird calls... the course exposed us to what we have been missing all this time.” After the birding course the couple went birding at Thattekad bird sanctuary in Kerala and the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. “It has made us sensitive to what is available in our local surroundings. When I step out of my home, I can hear the sun birds. Every morning what greets me at home is a symphony of bird calls.” Vijayalakshmi decided she would use what she learnt and incorporate the colours of the birds she saw onto the saris.
“We have these birds in our backyard. Right outside my home, I see the Racket-tailed drongos, orioles, paradise flycatchers and kingfishers. And, we are a sustainable farming brand. We combined the two to tell a beautiful story. We created our collection of checks and a new vocabulary of colour combinations. If I use a dash of green, I have to stick to the proportion of that shade on the plumage. It adds beauty only when used sparingly.”
Whether plain, checked or striped, the colour palette is bird inspired. The Common Rose Finch saree is a combination of deep pink, slate grey, mustard yellow and light brown. “The bird has a dash of unusual green in the plumage. We have used that green on the selvage to keep up the proportion. In the sari that borrows from the Blue-beared bee eater, the blue to green colours run like a shade card from deeper to lighter. The Stock-billed Kingfisher saree uses the blue of the body, pink from the beak, and the touch of yellow is the stripe running through the saree.”
Eighteen birds were shortlisted to match the summer and winter colour palette. The Vernal hanging parrot has meta colours while the Malabar Trogan saree has a blue edging, the same hue as the blue ring that rings the eyes of the bird.
“It takes over eight months, from ideation to the loom,” explains Vijayalakshmi. “We document every process. As an organisation, our foundation is based on sustainability. But, we don’t want to miss out on the aesthetics.”
Vijayalakshmi insists that it’s time to treat a saree like an heirloom. “Please preserve it. Buy something that has a story to tell, like a piece of art. Pass it on to your next generation. It is not just a piece of fashion. It is timeless.”
Medha Bhatt | First Forest
“It was amazing,” recalls Medha Bhatt about the bird call of the Malabar Whistling Thrush. She is the founder of First Forest art studio where she recreates products with scraps of discarded fabric. “It is called the whistling school boy as the sound is similar to a boy whistling away while returning from school. It was during a forest walk with my colleagues, who are environmentalists and bird watchers, that I first heard the bird. At the studio I sketched the bird and started matching every scrap of the fabric with the bird.”
Later, armed with her sketchbook and colour pencils, she went on bird surveys to the Silent Valley National Park. “Whenever a new bird is spotted, I make a quick sketch, and then later redraw, and make better sketches. It helps you to understand the habitat of the birds, some are always on a canopy. I made an entire collection on the birds of Silent Valley.”
- “I help stray animals. We have rescued injured and wounded eagles and owls and nursed them till they are ready to fly. I have taken in four abandoned rabbits that suffered some skin disease. We talk to children on caring for animals. I enlighten my staff. Tourists complain about dog menace on the beach so as we are part of the tourism circuit, we have ensured that our lifeguards on the beaches always carry food for the street dogs there. They feed them, get friendly and then get them sterilised and vaccinated. Medha Bhatt recreated some of our stray dogs on table linen. These are available for sale at our shop at the resort. Fifty per cent of the proceedings from the sale is used to support PFA.”
“The challenge is to choose an exact matching from tonnes of waste. I sketch the bird first to study the proportions of colours and patterns from an artist point of view. I used over 20 pieces of cloth to recreate the Srilankan Frog Mouth. It has greys, blues, and blacks...but so many patterns. It was difficult to recreate with fabric. For a fantail flycatcher that has black lines, I will look for a fabric with black lines. It brings together waste fabrics, applique and embroidery. When you finish patching a bird you have to merge the feathers, and recreate the eye and the beak with embroidery. For the Red-vented Bulbul, the red patch is done by embroidery.”
Says Medha, “My studio is a dumpyard of waste. How many birds will I make? People keep throwing waste. I use the waste scraps to recreate a beautiful Paradise flycatcher perching on a branch or barbets on bougainvillaea (all these on curtains) hoping that people, especially children will make a connect with conservation. My message is to use art and design and drive home the awareness on the impact of pollution on bio-diversity.”
My discard fabrics are the paintbox. I have made applique work of over 200 birds which includes the birds of the Western Ghats, Indian grasslands, Himalayas, and the Pench National Park. Also, the birds of the Tropical broadleaf forests, birds of Canada, song birds of North America.
My favourite ones are the Malabar Whistling Thrush and the Western Tragopan ( I used bandhini fabric in a stylised manner to show the spotted bird) and Robins, and the Indian Pita.
I have diversified into insects, dogs, squirrels. Recently, I got a commissioned work of wall hangings on mango orchards where I illustrate an entire ecosystem.