If there is one person who can be regarded as the pioneer of the Indian fashion industry it is designer Ritu Kumar, who saw an opportunity to merge India’s unique craftsmanship and textiles and turn it into a bona fide trade.
Kumar first began her business by setting up shop with four hand block printers in a small stall in Calcutta. At the time, hand block printing was a dying art, with many of its artisans out of work. It was the ‘60s and printed chiffon saris from European mills were all the rage but Kumar saw an opportunity to showcase Indian prints on the trendy fabric. Given her background in art history, Kumar spent almost two years researching the various methods of Indian hand block printing before launching a small collection of saris. The saris were a hit and thus, a designer brand was born. As her collection expanded to include other Indian garments, Kumar opened a small boutique in Delhi, establishing the first designer retail store in India. Although, a formal fashion industry did not yet exist in the country, Kumar laid the ground work to establish fashion design as an independent trade apart from the mass produced, commercial apparel being churned out by the various factories and mills in India.
Following her success with block printing, which continues to be an important element in her collections, Kumar turned her attention to the revival of India’s other vanishing arts like handloom and embroidery. Zardozi, a type of gold coil thread embroidery, had essentially disappeared as a trade before Kumar revitalized the craft and made it fashionable by using it in her designs. It’s impossible now to imagine a bridal sari or lehenga without various types of intricate zardozi work.
Four decades and numerous accolades later, Kumar’s work has come back full circle to the artisans in Calcutta with the designer’s “Many Hands Make Beautiful Work” campaign. The series, which features four distinct videos, is a tribute to the unsung heroes of the Indian fashion industry – the weavers, printers, hand embroiders and factory workers, who work tirelessly behind the scenes to produce the stunning craftsmanship for which Indian designers are known around the world. The beautifully shot vignettes were produced by Kumar’s son Amrish and directed by filmmaker Chintan Gohil. Take a look at the video below where Ritu and Amrish talk about the “Beautiful Hands” initiative and why it was important to share the stories behind the garments. You can see all the videos from the series on the designer’s YouTube channel.
Videos courtesy of: Ritu Kumar
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