India, especially the Northeast, is a treasure trove of unique textiles, but every year, more and more skilled weavers are forced to switch to more ‘secure’ jobs as hand-woven fabric have lost their demand. This is why a lot of young designers have been working tirelessly with weavers to retain the tradition, and also make it popular again among buyers, young and old. Preeti Bhutani and Moumi Moola are currently working towards this goal. They are hoping that their label ‘Taatini‘ will help showcase unique stories of the tribal communities through textiles, tribal folk design and indigenous silks.
The Birth of an Idea
With a Masters degree in textile design from UK, Preeti used to design for brands such as Zara Home, and Moumi, a psychology honours graduate, worked with foundations for urban poor communities, and is still involved with various social and civic issues. Both co-founders may come from different backgrounds but they have the same desire to put weaves on the map. ‘We started conceptualizing and researching in 2015. The exploration, interpretation and preservation of the aesthetic identity along with the traditional practices of our tribal community are the basis of our design philosophy.
With roots in Assam and Karnataka, both girls spent a lot of time in tea estates across Assam and in Guwahati. And so, it was a given that they would reach out to weavers in the State. In addition to that, they also work with weaving clusters from Varanasi, West Bengal and Hubli in Karnataka.
Taatini’s flagship product is the saree. ‘We work with different yarn combinations, weaves and unique colour palette to enhance the dramatic effect of tribal design. We have vegetable dyed hand-woven Eri sarees, embellished with Kasuti hand embroidery of Karnataka. Kasuti takes well to hand-woven fabric as the technique dictates that the warp and weft threads are first counted out to be able to do this kind of embroidery. Eri is a versatile fabric, which helped us create the right base and weave to showcase Kasuti. Aesthetically, they seemed to be the perfect match. The motifs used in Kasuti are geometric and inspired by nature and the surroundings. This is similar to the motifs traditionally used in the hand-woven textiles of Assam, the tree of life, and the myriad tribal patterns of the east.’
They added, ‘Varanasi weavers have learnt to weave the Assamese border on organza and silk sarees. The designs are normally restricted to the length of a mekhela sador or a dokhona. Weaving them on longer and wider fabric with zari from Surat and Banarasi silk gave us the opportunity to adapt and enhance these designs specific to the different weaving clusters across India.’
The duo reveals that they are reviving intricate designs in their sarees. ‘With urbanisation we are slowly losing our tribal heritage and crafts. Many of the old motifs and intricate weaves are no longer being woven. Tribal design is unique in comparison to other patterns found in sarees. We hope to showcase this minimalistic yet dramatic art form on the canvas of sarees. We envision tribal designs, be it the Phulmwabla of the Bodo’s or the stripes of the Hajong tribe to be adorned by women all over India.’ They also feel that it is time to give weavers their due. ‘We have such depth in the textiles of the Northeast. From the silk farmer to the vegetable dye artisans to the weaver, it is not an easy profession, and we tend to take it for granted.’
Of course, in a market, saturated with sarees, it hasn’t been easy for the duo. ‘Sustainable fashion by nature is slow. To do justice to each hand-crafted element and process is time consuming. As a result, the volume is low and price points are higher, which makes you a niche product. However, with awareness increasing and consumers caring about the products they spend money on, we are noticing a rising interest in this area.’
In the future, they hope to continue taking Eri to the world. ‘We are working with different weaving clusters and craft communities across India, to bring a blend of tribal art and crafts with the aesthetics or natural yarns of Assam. We are also collaborating with weaving clusters and NGO’s to translate our dream of making beautiful weaves for beautiful souls.’
This feature was first published in Eclectic Northeast July 2019 issue