Bibi Russell. Top model who has walked for Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld and Giorgio Armani, acclaimed fashion designer with a degree from London College of Fashion, "one of 20 people to watch in the millennium in Asia" cites Asiaweek and founder of "fashion for development". Having returned to Bangladesh in 1994, she opened fashion house Bibi Productions which employed several thousand weavers. Is it a wonder than that Russell was awarded Honorary Fellowship of The London Institute, Designer For Development and Artist for Peace by UNESCO? Here, she speaks to us about the potential of Rajasthan Heritage Week to bring craftspeople, weavers and artisans from remote corners of the state out of the poverty line and give them International recognition.
"Rajasthan Heritage Week is my dream project and very close to my heart because it promotes craftspeople and gives them more opportunities. This year, the scale has increased and they are all working very hard to make incredible work with their magic fingers. I hope this gives them a better market, a sustainable income and better livelihood. I believe this is one of the best initiatives by the Rajasthan Government because handicraft is the second largest occupation in the state after agriculture and providing them with this opportunity is very important. With initiatives like this they will get out of the poverty line with dignity and be able to provide better education and health for their future generations.
I call upon all development agencies, designers and social media to join forces to support traditional craftspeople by bringing together essential components such as culture and creativity, skill, capital, technical assistance, marketing, before many fine skills are lost. We must appreciate and encourage confidence at the least by dedicating time and energy in their heritage, their art. Since the dawn of civilisation, art and crafts have been sources of income and livelihoods for very many fine artisans. Weaving particularly is an age-old vocation. Through art and design, it is my intention to sensitise and demonstrate the immense skills and expertise of the local artisans. The craftspeople in Rajasthan really have magic in their fingers, I want to show that; I consider it my responsibility. All my work here is for them.
This initiative has the potential to snowball into a national and perhaps International level and I hope with all my heart it does. The way these crafts are showcased here will influence designers globally to use them in their collections leading to development of these communities through Fashion. What can be better for the craftsmen if their art comes under the ‘fashion’ umbrella and is recognised across the globe? The exposure will help increase their confidence and encourage them to stay rooted in their culture and do better with it. The restoration of the historical glory of our weavers and craftspeople, helping them advancing their economic life and creativity deserves a tribute from all patriots of the country. In fact, I owe my wealth of knowledge and experience of Rajasthani weaves and crafts to the weavers and craftspeople of the beautiful state. Travelling over the beautiful landscapes, sitting with them and understanding their process enabled me to experiment with color, weight, design. There we found a union of modern western culture and the culture and creativity of ordinary village producers.
I would like to stress here that culture is more than monuments, songs and cloth — it is who we are. No society can flourish without culture and no development can be sustainable without it. Rajasthan has a very rich culture, it’s got so much of everything — music, art, agriculture… it is literally a goldmine for any creative person. I come repeatedly because of my love for the craftspeople They deserve a better market and bigger opportunities. My entire collection is from head to toe Rajasthani Khadi, which is challenging. I have used 100 per cent Rajasthan Khadi — woollen, cotton, and a mixture of woollen and cotton, using different weight — from the weavers in Rajasthan. The look is very simple to show the beauty of the fabric and the accessorization will be completely different, inspired by and elementarily collected from different parts of Rajasthan and made by us, in-house. Styles are mainly wrap with a new look in terms of accessories and styling. It is a ready to wear collection that can be sold nationally and worldwide. When people see my collection I want them to appreciate all the work that has gone into it. I want to preserve heritage, foster creativity, provide employment, empower women and contribute towards the eradication of poverty. That’s what I’m committed to do. Thematically, my collection is a tribute to Gandhiji and the weavers and craftspeople of Rajasthan. Even the music is Gandhiji’s favorite bhajjan and a very important Bengali song about the youngest freedom fighter Khudiram who gave his life for the country with an undying will. These are the people who inspire me and give me strength."