Get Down to Brass Tacks…

Anaka wearing her favorite fabric-Ikkat

Anaka wearing a self styled Ikat shirt (her favourite fabric)

Anaka Narayanan is a feisty young entrepreneur who converted her love for Indian textiles to set up Brass Tacks, a brand that celebrates the union of Indian fabrics with western silhouettes. At her flagship store in Chennai’s bustling Alwarpet area, she shared her inspiration & insights from her 10-year journey….

Find Inspiration: I’ve grown up surrounded by  handwoven & tie-dye textiles. They’re a part of my childhood – so it was hard to not be drawn towards handcrafted Indian textiles!

 

Her creation in Khadi..Dhoti pants available on her website www.brasstacksmadras.com

Experiments in Khadi…Dhoti pants available here

Personally connect with your Idea: I started with making clothes that I would personally love to wear and transitioned to making Indian fabrics a contemporary choice for women. I loved the silhouettes and style of the West but didn’t like the fabrics. Indian textiles are great, but I felt someone needed to translate the Indian fabrics to modern silhouettes.

 

Initial blueprint of her design

Get your Basics Right: The book by Helen Joseph on Pattern making which is like a bible for budding designers, was a good start but I realized that Indian women were of a different body type. I must have measured close to a 100 woman and to prepare a size chart that works for Indian women by sticking to the core basics of pattern making. I have all of them to thank, along with a few friends who graciously offered to be measured!

Palette of colors on Anaka's table

Palette of colors on Anaka’s table

Research pays off!: I would say all the research that went into figuring out our Indian “standard” size chart really paid off.  Our size chart tailored to Indian women is one of the reason our pants do so well – we have the waist-hip ratio figured out! We also make clothes that are well cut

 

Anaka's creation with the clamp shibori, available online at www.brasstacksmadras.com

Clamp dye technique top available here

Choose who you stand for, you cannot please everyone: If you are in the business of clothing, you can’t cater to all body types. People will choose a style that will fit them. My clothes are well fitted as opposed to body hugging. Even styles that are essentially loose (the clamp shibori top for example) are well cut, so they fit a body type well.

The relaxed 303 with belted wide hem pants

The relaxed 303 with belted wide hem pants. Available here

 

 

Accept that social norms influence customer choices: Clients’ tastes and choices are influenced by the society they live in. So, a client looking for something to wear to her cousin’s wedding after party may not pick up a dress because it may be too flattering, but she will pick up a printed or a smart trouser and a nicely fit shirt, which looks great as well.

Saravana-the fit genius & Laisarani-the official cutter who joined in the first year itself...

Saravana-the fit genius; Laisarani- BrassTack’s official cutter

 

 

People, People, People: I got lucky! I found my core team of two tailors within weeks. My pattern-maker joined within our 4th month. Our production manager, started as a consultant and joined full-time a few months later. I have now been able to build a team that is aligned with my vision. From a team of 5, we are now 23!

Online or Offline?

Online or Offline?

In the real world or the online world: For a brand targeting a niche segment, a physical store is very important. It communicates your brand philosophy more effectively. For a website, the investment in marketing has to be continuous and in large amounts. I still feel Indian customers are wary of ordering clothes online. They have to touch & feel the fabric, and try it, to buy it.

Brass Tacks's Facebook Page- https://www.facebook.com/Brasstacksmadras

Brass Tacks’s Facebook Page. Click here

Start small, stay steady: I started off with a small mailing list from friends and family, and then built it organically by collecting emails and phone numbers from customers. Emails work really well for Brass Tacks. The way we engage with people on our Facebook page has also helped our shoppers understand what the line is all about.

The process of building a brand is a journey. Keep at it!

 

Competition spurs creativity: I welcome competition because I feel that creative energies feed off of each other. If someone finds it easy to copy my designs , it means I need to do a better job to keep my brand unique!

Keep at it!: Don’t be afraid to seek advice. I have a few mentors with whom I still meet as it’s great to have someone with a lot more knowledge & experience than you. Breathe, take a break and come back to it!

The Whole 9 Yards: What it takes to build a successful craft organization

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Ms. Laila Tyabji Photo Courtesy: Dastkar and Limca Book of records

This is the first of our series of mentor sessions with successful founders, entrepreneurs and designers who work with India’s artisans. From stories of their lives are insights, lessons and inspiration for those of us working in this sector.  Our first stop is with Ms. Laila Tyabji, founder of Dastkar (https://www.facebook.com/dastkarsociety) The ever elegant Ms. Tyabji, shared tips from a lifetime of experiences working with India’s artisans and building Dastkar.

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The will to get up every day with the enthusiasm of a 20-something year old comes when you know that “I am not doing this single-handedly. There was a time when I used to be up on a ladder fixing a signboard, but the very idea of setting up an organization is not to believe you can do it all by yourself. The idea is to start a movement and involve other people”

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“We are trying to catch up with the rest of the world in so many sectors, but we are ignoring a potential gold mine. Very few countries have the diversity in craft that we have. Look at our woodwork – it is different when you go to Saharanpur from when you go to Kashmir. Countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, China do not have the enormous range of skills that we have. Yet these countries are in the international market and their craftsmen are considered as a valuable asset. In India, we’re missing out this opportunity and I hope someone realizes it soon.”

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“Even when an organization is set up it can’t last on its own. There are many local NGOs like Urmul, Seva,who work in specific areas. We have joined hands with many of them.”

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For those who feel that every creative line of work is rewarding all the way, here is a bit of a reality check: “Realistically, every creative job is never all exciting and rewarding. There is finance, administration and influencing people to your vision. Persuading bureaucrats and politicians is a part of the job too.”

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The times they are a-changin’ and so has Dastkar’s perspective “As consumer choices are being influenced by many brands and trends, we realized we had to shift from making garments as ‘the big seller’. So we diversified into home décor, folk art and made efforts to modernize handcrafted textiles. 3 dimensional crafts have potential because people want to invest in doing up their homes in a unique way.”

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“My tryst in Japan with Shibori (tie & dye) opened a whole new world to me. I loved their styles as they were simple yet appealing. In India, our traditional designs tend to be very ornamental. As the Indian consumer has changed,  our craftsmen haven’t. One should strive to help craftsmen design products that are relevant.”

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“The perception is since the craft is expensive, the artisan is getting paid as well, we’re not taking into account inflation in everyday life. This leads to cruder work and we are losing the original fine craftsmanship that we were known for. Credit facilities are not easily available to the craftsmen. One needs to set wage standards and also educate the customer about the downside of bargaining”

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With technology, there is a sense of uniformity in all that is available to us. Ms. Tyabji tells us where the opportunity lies for the craft sector: “The world is getting tired of uniformity and technology. People want exclusivity and want to look one of a kind. I keep telling our craftsmen that in 20 years they will be the most valued people as only crafts can lend that uniqueness.”

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The web may have changed people’s expectations of a waiting period. There was a time when an artisan would come to our door step on an appointed day to sell his works of art. Today, internet marketing is the modern equivalent of that artisan on a cycle with his products. Customers are used to having a product at their doorstep in two days. But a handcrafted product does not quite work that way.  It is a labour of love and passion. Somewhere, both the customer and our artisans need to realize this gap and perhaps meet half-way.”

In an hour, there was a lot that Laila shared – and yet, I am left wanting for more. Stay curious till our next post in this series when we meet our next mentor over coffee….

Last Weekend Calling..

This year's theme is The COW- The nurturer, the protective & dutiful mother who is so deeply rooted in our traditions &hearts

This year’s theme is The COW- The nurturer, the protective & dutiful mother who is so deeply rooted in our traditions &hearts

Mother nature calls all the connoisseurs of crafts, and I have seen more than cows flocking to the Nature Bazaar, Andheria Modh. With the Cow as the theme of the festival (which is omnipresent throughout the Bazaar) one gets to see the rich & the diverse art of the country through the 120 stalls at the Nature Bazaar. For those who have been to the Festival of lights, you will be delighted to see the familiar faces again, for they have new things to offer this time. But among the familiarity, shine through many new faces, some even for the first time..

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Students from Meerabai Institute of Technology painting lively images of Dastkar NATURE Bazaar

Since we believe in making things easy for you, let us categorize some of the best at the Nature Bazaar..

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Shepherd Crafts (Stall 98) and Nayee Kiran (Stall 3)

1) Textiles- We have fallen in love with the Tussars and the appliqué work the last time, so could we be lucky in love the second time? We certainly were! We were amazed at finding Kashmiri embroidery never seen before, on varied textiles like Bhagalpur silk and Andhra cotton at Nayee Kiran (Stall 3) and the Shepherd crafts (Stall 98).

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Kalamkari by Vishwanath Reddy (Stall 13)

We found ourselves marveling at the Paithani sarees (Samdaik Seva Sanstha, Stall 58) as well as the Kalamkari by Vishwanath Reddy (Stall 13). A quick stop at the first stall would help you pick some hand-woven Kashida Kurtas (C-1).

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Bright colored Paithani sarees (Samdaik Seva Sanstha, Stall 58)

2) Home Décor- The coconut fibers hung in the way of monkeys, dragons and bird nests at Odiani (Stall C-14). Among the regulars stood out the state award winner Vijay Kumar Verma (Stall 59) who mesmerized me with Sanjhi paperwork, it’s a pity that he didn’t let me take a photograph, but no photograph could do justice to his work.

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Odiani (Stall C-14)

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Human Harmonizes brings quirky home decor

Let the puppets of Sheela Choudhry adorn your house and peek from those ignored corners. Whether it is the blue stone pottery, Andretta pottery (C-11) or the sculptures in terracotta depicting the life in the villages (right before Gali-E-Khas), let them be a part of your home.

Terracotta Pottery

Terracotta Pottery

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Sheela Choudhry- the puppet master

3) Go Eco- With the world, taking the Green turn, how could the worshippers of nature fall behind? Find organic vegetables (Stall C 28), Herbal soaps (Stall C 31), Eco recycling at the Daily Dump (C-13) and the Camel Karishma from Rajasthan (Stall 71), who endeavor to take the green turn.

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The coconut fiber man reaches out to Daily dump..Urging people to Go Green?

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All things bright and natural…

4) Child’s Play- Revisit your childhood or let your child get fascinated by the colorful array of toys at N.S Toys (C-15). Let the two subjects that one would dread, history and mathematics, become fascinating with Asha Ram’s puzzles (C-16). From Nagina, a small town in Bijnour comes the genius that blends Mughal art with mathematical precision. Get your child hooked on to puzzles from Frog Magg (Stall 66), that also teach the varied art forms of India.

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Colorful array of toys by N.S Toys

5) Food- Finally, a day of good shopping deserves a masala chai from Jugmug Thela and take home some delicacies from Gourmet Medleys debuting at the Dastkar. For the adventurous lot, try the dry vegetables at Camel Karisma too.

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A cup of Chai?

You do need to stop by the Indian Artisan’s stall 42, so you can add the NEW Bandhej collection to your wardrobe and serve all the food to your loved ones on our Gond painted trays. Make the most of this weekend and get to know what it is to be really happy, while shopping!

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Fragrant candles with Gond painting at Indian Artisans Stall 42

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Phulkaro wallets at Indian Artisans Stall 42

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Kurtas with Kashida embroidery

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Life of the villages…in terracotta

Checklist for Festival of Lights

Customers at Indian Artisans Stall number 42

Customers at Indian Artisans Stall number 42

When I walked into the Dastkar Festival of Lights event, little did I expect that it would be an experience that would leave an indelible mark. The days of weavers coming home with bags full of beautiful sarees went extinct when high rises and mall culture took over our cities. As a result, most of us no longer really know the story behind the handcrafted treasures in our homes and wardrobes.
At the Dastakar event, there were stories – at every kiosk, each product that I picked up, every person I met. The bazaar is teeming with artisans who’ve travelled to Delhi to showcase creative handicrafts interspersed with contemporary style – almost everything appealed to me as a buyer!

If you haven’t checked out the Festival of Lights at Nature’s Bazaar (by Dastkar), here is a checklist that will make it easy for you:

1.Inspired Home Décor: Beautiful breakfast tables with Mithila art (one of which I picked), furniture made of teak wood with kundan work, appliqué trays and coasters from Bihar that are conversation starters over hot cups of tea, were some décor ideas that caught my eye. Bearing the devastation in Kashmir, I was even more enthralled by the detailed weaving on silk and wool in carpets and cushion covers. The intricate patterns made me think about the brilliant work that would have been lost in the floods. Luckily, some made it to Dastkar.
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2.Furniture- For anyone looking for ideas for their new home, there’s an abundance of choices at the Bazaar. The green weaved Moonj craft stool and some of the wooden furniture were unique.

Amir Ahmed and Sons from U.P, Stall 15

Amir Ahmed and Sons from U.P, Stall 15

3.Vibrant Kitchenware: Lacquerware wooden kitchenware by Shri Vadha Vakya Meran would add joy to a kitchen. His toys are also a hit amongst children – even my nephew couldn’t resist picking up something for himself.
4.The 6 yards and more: Bandhej sarees from Kutchh by National award winner Mohamed Khatri, beautiful Kalamkari sarees, gorgeous appliqué sarees & suits in a range of colors will spoil you for choice. You can also look at vibrant tusser silk sarees and material. For a saree lover like me, it was like being in textile paradise.

Lacquerware by Vada Vakya Meeran, Stall C5

Lacquerware by Vada Vakya Meeran, Stall C5

5.Pottery: An engaging conversation with the National Award winner and the Shilp Guru Awardee, Shri Giri Raj Prasad would reveal how technically complex terracotta pottery can be. Have a look at the black and blue stone pottery as well.
6.The festival of lights will not disappoint hardcore Delhi foodies. The Maharashtra counter with delectable Sabud Dana tikkis, The Nomadic Thali at the Chinh Chulah Cuisine, are all finger-licking good soul food! Take home an assortment of treats like homemade mathis and pickles or refreshing varieties of tea. After a long day, this is just what you want.

Nani ki Mathi at stall 29

Nani ki Mathi at stall 29

7.Our Indian Artisans Stall 42 –Our design studio team has worked hard to put together a collection with beautiful ‘bharti’ bandhej dupattas, elegant aari embroideries, the traditional Khari printing technique in a new avatar of playful motifs and more.
The photos below have the stall numbers that will help you navigate when you are at the Festival of Lights this weekend. Hoping to see you there!

Light up your Diwali with accessories at Indian Artisans stall#42

Light up your Diwali with accessories at Indian Artisans stall#42

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Dot comes a full circle with the Bandhej collection at the Indian Artisans stall #42

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4 Seasons in a tray!Gond painted trays at the Indian Artisans Stall#42

Tumaka  Art at stall 70

Tumaka Art at stall 70

Applique Work Grameen Vikas Chetna Sanstha stall 72 and 73

Applique Work Grameen Vikas Chetna Sanstha stall 72 and 73

Leather Wallets and bags at Stall C7 (Leather Vyasvsayi Kalyan Sansthan-Rajasthan)

Leather Wallets and bags at Stall C7 (Leather Vyasvsayi Kalyan Sansthan-Rajasthan)

Home Decor at stall 51

Home Decor at stall 51

Terracotta Pottery by Giri Raj Prasad

Terracotta Pottery by Giri Raj Prasad

Balka, Jali, Genda…can you guess what they are?

The mud resist block printing technique known as dabu printing is found extensively throughout Rajasthan. While we enjoy wearing our pretty printed kurtas and duapattas, traditionally these prints also served the purpose of identification!

Each pattern, motif and even colour signified a particular community, caste and even marital status of the person wearing the garment! When we met dabu printer Ramzan Ibrahim during our research trip to Jodhpur, he elaborated the meaning of some of them.

Here’s what some of the patterns signified-

  • Elaicha- this pattern is worn by the Sindhi community. Traditionally, deep red colour is used for this pattern.
  • Katar- Worn especially by the Raika caste who rear goats. Green colour is used for this pattern.
  • Jali- worn by potters or Kumhara and the Seervi caste (farming community). Green and red colours are used to make this pattern.
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From L-R: Elaicha, Katar, Jali

  • Balka- young women would traditionally wear this pattern. Usually, green colour is used to make this pattern.
  • Nalna- is worn by elderly women. Combination of blue and saffron colours are used.
  • Genda- this popular motif was traditionally worn by widows. Green colour is used for this motif.
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From L-R: Balka, Nalana, Genda

  • Mirchiya- mostly worn by the Seervi caste (farming community). Black and blue colours are used for this pattern.
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Mirchiya

  • Singrar- another pattern worn by Sindhi.
  • Raakdi- a pattern worn by the Raika caste.

In both Raakdi and Singrar blue and green colours are used.

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Raakdi and Singrar

  • Sada- is worn by the Bishnoi community. Known for their love of nature, they helped in bringing the Salman Khan black buck poaching case to light. Green colour is used for this pattern.
  • Methi- this pattern is worn by lohaars (blacksmith). Characterised by the use of green and blue colours.
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From L-R: Sada and Methi

  • Boria- is usually worn by the Mali or gardener caste. To make boria green and blue colours are used.
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Boria

  • Nimboli- worn by widows of the Raika caste. Green and blue colours are used
  • Gugri- is usually worn by the Mali( gardeners) and even the Sindhi community. Blue colour is used.
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Nimboli and Gugri

  • Tipoli- worn by Kumhars. Red and blue colours are used for this pattern.
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Tipoli

  • Longboria- worn by the Sindhi community. Blue colour is used.
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Longboria

  • Akola- wood blocks used for phetiya printing. Phetiya is traditional skirt cloth which is worn exclusively by Jat women in Akola. It is characterised by the use of red on indigo blue.
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Wood block used for making Phetiya print

So next time you see a kurta with a similar design try to guess which one is it!

You can read more about Ramzan Ibrahim and his work here. If you would like to work with him subscribe to our directory here.

The lifeline of hand printing in Sanganer

Most wood block makers in Sanganer are from Farrukhabad in Uttar Pradesh which used to be a hub for hand block making. As the demand for wood blocks have declined there, most have left their homes and shifted to Rajasthan. Their exceptional skill and mastery over the craft is also one of the reasons for printing to thrive in Sanganer.

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A printer shows the wood block used for creating the design. For printing in different colours several wood blocks are used in combination.

 

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Most wood block makers in Sanganer are from Farrukhabad. They still use traditional hand carving technique to create intricate wood blocks.

 

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Flowers for your kurtas! Sanganer is renowned for floral motifs.

 

Ajay Singh Chauhan

Although Ajay Singh Chauhan has a workshop in Farrukhabad, he shifted to Sanganer. “The demand for wood blocks has risen here. It is hard to keep a track if you are away. I will soon be bringing my family too”

 

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A design created for a designer by Chauhan. He specialises in making customised designs.

 

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Another abstract design developed by Chauhan with the help of a designer.

 

Altaf Hussain

Altaf Hussain, 29, followed his father’s footsteps and took up the traditional work. Wood block making is a thriving business in Sanganer and many young men are happy to take up the craft.

 

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Intricate designs used for printing. Wood block makers are constantly pushing themselves to create new designs.

 

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Some of the popular contemporary motifs used in Sanganer

 

Satya Prakash Dubey

‘You can’t take more photographs!’ Satya Prakash Dubey is one of the artisans who makes exclusive customised designs… and ensures that they stay exclusive!

 

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Exquisite designs developed for a design student

 

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At present wood block making is a flourishing business in Sanganer, but artisans worry about the pace with which screen printing is taking over. Will their craft die with time?

The Muted Red of Sanganer Prints – a fading craft

Radhesharan Chippa and his wife are preservers of a historical tradition – not just hand block printers from Sanganer. Their modest printing unit in their home house is probably one of the rare places where the traditional method of Sanganeri printing still continues. “Although Sanganeri print was in a decline for a long time, I think the final nail to the coffin was the flood of 1980s,” says Radhesharan, talking about the river that flows near Sanganer. The river was the reason Sanganer became a printing hub since the reign of Sawai Jai Singh in the 16th Century. Siltation due to the flood caused the river to become a mere stream with dirty water. This took away the main source of water for printers. Increasing demand for prints also made artisans shift to chemical dyes which are cheaper and faster.

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Radhesharan Chippa

Traditional Sanganeri print was distinct for its rust red colour. Unlike dabu printing, the colour in Sanganeri print was derived from washing and drying the cloth several times.  “The characteristic muted rust red colour and the soft texture of the cloth comes out from the rounds of washing and drying. This is what makes the work very tedious and is one of the reasons many printers chose to leave it,” says Radhesharan.

 

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Traditional Sanganeri print with rust red colour

 

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Bright colours and abstract designs is the flavour of the market! Very few printers make traditional Sanganeri prints.

Radhesharan alternates between running a clinic in the day and moonlighting as a hand block printer creating exquisitely printed fabric. He and his wife make their own designs using traditional motifs.“Every evening after work my family and I start printing. We are joined by my brother and his family. We divide the work so that things get done much faster. There is no gender divide, women… children everyone pitches in,” he says.

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Exquisite designs made by RadhesharanChippa

Although Radhesharan supplies to a leading fashion brand, he focuses his energy more on educating young designers about the old way of printing. “Students from NIFT and other design colleges come and learn the technique from us. While hand block printing is flourishing in Sanganer I do not want the old way of printing to vanish. Teaching it to the younger generation is the best way to preserve it,” he says.