“I am driving efforts to find the authentic hand-woven Mekhala Chador its true value and recognition globally!” says Fashion Designer Sanjukta Dutta
She is working towards reviving the traditional Muga silk-based Mekhela Chador, which is a dying design form. Every single Mekhela Chador designed by her is unique, customized, handcrafted and effectively tells the story that the beautiful woman draping it wants it to. Her fixation on customizing her creations for her clients, coupled with her passion for storytelling through clothing has led Sanjukta to global fame, and her creations were presented to the Royal family during their visit in 2016. Her stylish, fashionable and exquisite range of completely customized Assamese ` Mekhela Chador’ enchanted the audience at Mysore Fashion Week 2015 and left the audience spellbound at The Indian Beach Fashion Week 2016. She was the first Assamese woman designer to showcase her collection at the Lakme Fashion Week 2016, 2017 and 2018 in Mumbai with Bollywood beauties like Hema Malini, Esha Deol, Dia Mirza, Preity Zinta, and Bipasha Basu gracing the stage as the showstopper for her label.
Today we are celebrating the success of Sanjukta Dutta, an Assamese designer par excellence, who hails from Nagaon near Guwahati, creates a unique combination of clubbing traditions and prints of different geographies into one unique customized piece of garment, Mekhela Chador with the Assamese silk in most cases being the base. As an artist, Sanjukta loves playing with colours and designs, and this took her to various parts of the country.
Sanjukta's passion has seen her design empire grow to necessitate the setup of 13 factories, starting with Maa Durga Axomiya Pat and Muga Kapuror Boyon Protisthon – in Guwahati itself, which has now translated to over 100 looms where she produces her characteristic silk ‘Mekhela Chadors’, with different varieties of coloured silk threads, especially Muga and Pat.
The 2019 grand Gurugram International Couture Week saw the actor, producer, director, Divya Khosla Kumar add to the fashion extravagance of Sanjukta Dutta’s show strutting as the showstopper in a beautiful Assamese Mekhela Chador.
She has been honored with the Women Achiever of the Year Award by SBI and BSNL. Sanjukta’s Studio which houses all her collections, was chosen the Best Designer Store by the 92.7 Big FM team. Her dreams of making Assam silk a global brand on the lines of Assam Tea received a major boost when she received the prestigious “Stardust Global Indian Icon Achievers Awards” in the Designer category, which was awarded to her in an event on 13th July 2017 at the Plaza, New York. In 2018, Sanjukta was felicitated with the award of “Fashion Designer of the Year” for keeping handloom alive by Dadasaheb Phalke Excellence Award. The latest feather on her cap was being the chosen one from North-east India to create the logo of Yashraj’s 2018 release SUI DHAGA, starring Varun Dhawan and Anushka Sharma.
Check out the excerpts of the exclusive conversation the team of Apeksha News Network had with the most admired Assam's designer who talks about fashion, issues faced by artisans and about her eponymous designer couture, which has transformed the Assam textile industry in an unimaginable manner.
Tell us about yourself and your career so far, how did you become a fashion stylist?
Born and brought up in Assam, I am currently a fashion designer appreciated for my iconic Mekhela Chador collections. The passion for crafting the authentic Assamese garment with my creative vision gave me the courage to quit my ten years of established government job in PWD and enter the world of fashion. Also, yet another reason for venturing into this career was that I felt an urge to revive the handicraft industry for the artisans who were opting for alternative income methods due to a growing lack of finances.
My modest beginning happened when my designed Mekhela Chadors sold non-stop successfully all-round the year at one local shop. The acceptance and appreciation gave me the confidence to venture into my forever dream with full power. I would say I took the right decision as there was never looking back since then. I started with minimal seed capital, and three looms which have now grown into 100 looms, two hand-crafting units and a retail boutique called Sanjukta Studios.
How would you define ‘fashion’?
Fashion for me is a form of expression. One can express their personality, mood, vibe, etc. through their fashion statement. As a woman, fashion gives me empowerment and provides an opportunity to dress to showcase my demeanor.
What is the USP of collections by Sanjukta's Studio?
The USP is giving the conventional traditional Indian wear, especially the Assamese attire from Sanjukta's Studio, a contemporary and modern avatar. I have always had immense love for Mekhela Chador and Assamese silk, and when I get to dress the millennial women in its eclectic form, it adds a lot of pride in me. My brand in all means celebrates feminity and fashion at par.
It is said that 'A wardrobe is incomplete without a Mekhela Chador from Sanjukta Dutta's couture'. Comments.
Sanjukta’s Studio offers the conventional weaves of Assamese silk in a fresh, chic and modern avatar. A complete melange of cuts and textures, contrasting colors to exotic indigenous motifs of Assamese opulent heritage craft one can wish to find in my label.
Each silk attire is a handmade wonder, and I say so because it takes a minimum of 25 days to finish each creation. Moreover, most of the materials used in the couture are locally produced from a particular type of silkworm found only in one specific village in Assam. It does require a lot of effort and hard work to create each of the Assamese ensembles that you will find in my collection. So, yes if you don't own one from the exotic collection, you are missing out something endearing from your wardrobe.
You usually incorporate traditional designs of different parts of the country to the Mekhela chador. How do you do so?
I am not professionally trained in comparison to my peers in the fashion industry. I derive my influence from the rich and exotic Indian heritage and culture. So, whether it is the dance forms, flora or fauna, or any other forms of celebrated art that belongs to different parts of the country, it can be seen in my designs very vividly.
How is the market of Mekhela Chador outside Assam?
Silk lovers from across the country and abroad have shown immense love and appreciation for the Mekhela Chador ever since I have ventured into promoting it across all platforms, for which I am extremely grateful to my clientele. For me, Mekhela Chador is an epitome of luxury and elegance. Many aren’t aware that Mekhela Chador is easier to drape than a sari and can be worn in many different styles.
Over the years, I have realized that in the domain of silk, banarasi, kanjeevaram and chanderi have flair in the market. There is a lack of awareness of the beautiful traditional Assamese silk split-sari. So, I am driving efforts to find the authentic hand-woven Mekhala Chador its true value and recognition globally.
What are the issues that your weavers face? As a designer, how are you assisting them to redress their problems?
Because of the lack of support to the Indian handicraft industry added with the growing use of machines in the textile industry led the artisans to withdraw from the heritage craft and explore other career opportunities. So, when I initiated my career in the handloom industry I also decided to bring all the displaced artisans under my fold. Today, Sanjukta’s Studio supports over a hundred families of artisans, covering all aspects like education, medical needs, and lodging, apart from salaries. It was with the promise of supporting their families that I motivated the artisans to stick to their craft and art.
If you could travel back in time to one fashion era, where would you end up? What did you like about that period?
To be honest, I love this era, and the reason is that there is so much freedom for experimenting and at the same time acceptance to your extraordinary ideas and creativity. So I guess I will stick to the era I am very much a part currently.
What styling advice would you give other women?
Clothing for me is ‘Confidence’. I believe how you dress is how you feel. So, I put all efforts to empower the millennial women with my contemporary designs. And I would advise the same, you dress in the way that builds your confidence and empowers you.
With so much competition in the lifestyle segment, how do you manage to stay at par and attract customers?
Being fresh and still adhering to the taste and wants of the millennial women's traditional and style desires helps me be relevant in the fashion world.
With the boom in digitalization, people have shifted to online purchasing. Do you think that it affects the clothing business?
Yes, it is a boom in many ways. I can easily propagate my brand across the country and abroad. Clients from any nook of the globe can approach me for their requirements. Social media also has been a huge enabler for me to express my brand story as well as enhance the existence of Assamese handlooms and textiles. Honestly, it has been a wonderful journey for my label when it comes to using digital tools for connecting with my clients as well as driving sales.
The government of India is promoting art and culture as well as artisans. How far have they been successful? Any suggestions to the government on the same?
I appreciate the measures and reforms that the government of India is taking for the upliftment of the artisans and the Indian textile industry. Providing a dependability structure to the artisans to rely on their inherited craft and art is a huge help for their living resources. I hope that the pace continues in a similar manner.
Tell us about your latest collection.
The new collection “PRAYAASH” showcases the famous work of the most renowned and eminent artists present in the history of art. An endless amount of effort is made by the grassroots artisans of my team to pay tribute to the world’s most legendary artists, by hand-crafting motifs of their extraordinary and prolific creations on the Assamese silk. The collection takes inspiration from the captivating paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, masterpieces by Claude Oscar Monet, vibrant colored portraits by Frida Kahlo, the remarkable modern art of Jamini Roy, oil and acrylic groundbreaking artworks of SH Raza and similar prominent artists. The collection has the perfect flavor of the indigenous cultures of Assam, the passion of eminent historic artists blended with the taste of contemporary wardrobe sensibilities of the millennial women.
What is the biggest struggle of a woman entrepreneur today in India?
I guess there is still a lack of reliability when it comes to the work of a woman. We do talk about equality but in the real world, it will still take time to see the change. I see a difference definitely from the time I started working to the time now, but there is a long way yet to attain.
What main change would you like to see for young girls in the next generation?
I would like them to trust their talent and not let anyone take their dreams away from them for any reason. But yes there is no shortcut, you need to work hard and put efforts to attain what you desire and reach your dream position. Stay calm and trust yourself is what I would tell young women.
International Women’s Day celebrates the scientific, political, economic and social achievements of women. In your experience as a successful woman, what is its significance?
It is good to celebrate the greatness of womanhood. Dedicating a day to the achievements of women inspires and motivates them to fight gender parity and other issues faced by them in society. It also reflects that there is a collective effort to improve the existing situation of women globally.
Sanjukta started her passion for designing the Mekhela Chador at a time when the Assam silk handloom industry was going through a difficult phase when the traditional market shows the onslaught of other silk sarees which drove many of the artisans out of the market. It was her missionary zeal and ardent love for the Mekhela Chador, which stood the test of time. Her decision to bring all the displaced artisans under her fold was a bold and a decisive venture. These captivating pieces of jewelry, like her clothing lines, are also custom‐made, handcrafted and designed in different shapes and sizes of some of the most popular Assamese traditional jewelry – Dug Dugi, Keru Moni, Junbiri etc. Thus, bringing together Traditional Assamese Jewelry designs with more contemporary and chic styling. Apeksha News Network congratulates Sanjukta Dutta for her unique contribution towards transforming the Assam textile industry in an unimaginable manner, and wishes her good luck for her future endeavours!