Designer, Anita Dongre discusses her sustainable clothing label and why she wants to work with artisans to help preserve their craft.
Words: Rini Mukkath
Photo courtesy: House of Anita Dongre
What triggered the need to start a label that is more sustainable and socially conscious?
It has always been my dream to create beautiful clothes, and at the same time create beautiful tomorrows for our people, planet and crafts. Anita Dongre Grassroot is the embodiment of my core passion — to design clothes that hold a purpose. Every piece in this collection celebrates the crafts of India in contemporary wear. It also provides artisans a sustainable means of income in their villages, thus driving economy back through textile crafts. This is a journey that took twenty years but meeting the women of SEWA changed everything.
You have built one of the largest fashion houses by a single designer in India. What are some of the lessons you have learnt about what makes a brand sustainable in India?
With five brands, there’s never a moment of boredom! There is always something exciting to look forward to everyday and the learnings are manifold. I started small and worked very hard to build successful brands under House of Anita Dongre by making work my religion. One of my first learnings was to believe in what I do and trust my gut instinct. If I had to bullet them I would say my greatest learnings have been hard work, dedication and belief in myself.
How did you go about picking the artisans, weavers? What was the process of getting them to work for you?
One of the first steps was to visit them and understand their work. At this stage, we might discuss innovations. The second involves sketching out developments and designs that we want to achieve. This is sent out into the village for sampling. With Anita Dongre Grassroot, we typically have one village that weaves the fabric, which is then sent to us; we mark it for embroidery and sent to the right village (depending on the design and technique) for embroidery. When it comes back to us a master cuts to the decided pattern and another stitches the piece. It then goes through a process of finishing and quality check. This usually takes at least 3 months.
While this makes it seem like a steady process, we have to keep in mind that this is handwork with no two pieces exactly alike. So very often one idea goes out and, with all these craftspeople working on the idea, an entirely different (and often exciting) finished product comes back.
While artisans are involved in this project from a production perspective, are you also looking to broaden this involvement?
Anita Dongre Grassroot was born out of the need to create sustainable livelihoods for craftspeople in the villages of India. Our responsibility to the artisans is to give them the one thing they want — consistent, respectable work for remuneration that appreciates their skill. There is a multi-fold effect to sustained economic empowerment and that is what we are working towards.
What is the larger vision for Anita Dongre Grassroot? Where do you see this brand going?
The journey to launching Grassroot started 30 years ago. It has been a slow journey getting to the point where Indian crafts are celebrated on a global platform. It was always my dream to see Indian craftspeople receive the attention they deserve from global fashion influencers and the store in New York was one step towards this. In the long term, my dream is to create enough demand for Indian textile crafts and to provide employment to every craft family. What I hope for is a future where parents proudly pass their craft traditions down to their children for the gift that it is.