Designing a change

Uma Prajapati, one of the founders of Upasana Design Studio in Auroville shows some exclusive collections of the brand; the production unit and stylists at work.  

Born into a middle-class family in Bihar and later moving to Delhi to pursue fashion designing, Uma Prajapati’s two-week trip to Auroville in 1996 changed her and the fashion outlook, setting the stage for a conscious fashion hub.

By the end of 1997, the idea of a socially responsible fashion for change took the form of Upasana Design Studio. “I came to Auroville on a two-week project. The vision of Auroville changed me in two weeks. I was in love with Auroville and never looked back. My two-week holiday still continues,” she quips.

Upasana Design Studio is one of the 174 social enterprises in the industrial zone in Auroville.

Initially working with organic cotton farmers, Upasana emerged independently as a brand collaborating at different levels with weavers, adapting the designs of tribals and weavers living in the remote corners of India, making their products marketable and reaching out to the world outside.

With the mantra of sustainable fashion business, Upasana which started with an initial investment of ₹2,000 has a turnover of up to ₹3 crore now.

Consistent efforts

“Though it has been a slow progress, we have consistently worked towards sustainable fashion by making fashion accountable to society. We use the 3% indigenous organic cotton that is left in our country for our brand. Fashion industry is the second most polluting industries in the world and there is lot of disparity within the industry. Upasana strives to transform that space by working with farmers, weavers and tsunami victims. I believe that there is so much power in fashion, if it can be conscious it can serve people and not exploit them,” she adds.

Helping communities

She says that Upasana looks for every intervention point by involving in education, design consultancy and social development of the communities. For instance, Upasana started working with the Varanasi weavers in 2006 and later went on to introduce a brand called ‘Varanasi Weavers’ which encouraged weavers to continue their livelihood. Post tsunami, a project they started as trauma counselling for fisherwomen in February 2005 to help the women affected in the region. “More than 600 women were taught to make tiny dolls called ‘Tsunamika’ which runs on gift economy. It was never sold but given and received the Award of Excellence from Government of India and a special recognition from UNESCO. Today, nearly 5 million dolls have travelled to 80 countries,” she says.

Upasana is slowly looping in like-minded people in the industry to work collectively towards making fashion industry accountable. “This Conscious Fashion Hub will pave the way for more networking with an emphasis of industry’s accountability to society,” says Ms. Prajapati. Upasana has travelled to Japan and several European countries as a brand. “We are not doing job work for other companies like many in the textile industry do. We go as a brand and we have received overwhelming response to our products in several countries,” she said.

There are nearly 40 employees working in Upasana. Aurovillians, staff from neighbouring villages and volunteers from different colleges across the world comprise the creative, production, marketing, style and design team in Upasana Design Studio. Their products range from women’s apparels to accessories. They have now visited Dharmapuri and are making plans to continue their work with a tribal community there. “Design is a toll to serve people wherever I can,” Ms. Prajapati.

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 9:10:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/designing-a-change/article22818849.ece

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