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IN CONVERSATION WITH RADHAKRISHNAN NAIR

— JASMEEN DUGAL

With limited access to formal education, rural communities are hindered from generating a reliable income and pulling themselves out of the poverty line. So it is heartening when one hears of brands like "Soma" promoting sustainable community development. The brand is an exceptional illustration of how Fashion is giving back… it has transformed the ancient craft of block printing with contemporary ensembles while providing economic security to its artisans, hired from rural communities and formally educated in the art of block printing. About the brand, Soma has developed a unique style using the ancient traditions of Indian craftsmanship in a modern vocabulary.

 

Having heard so much about the brand and fascinated by its collections, I was thrilled to meet craft conservationist and founder RadhaKrishnan Nair during a recent trip trip to Jaipur. "I'm from Kerala. On a trip to Jaipur I fell in love with the city and on encouragement from friends living here I made the decision to shift base. After a period of changing jobs I began to look closely at traditional crafts and launched Soma in 1984. Since then I have endeavoured to develop unique designs by working directly with the artisans. After thirty-odd years in the business, I think my wife [a painter in Canada National Arts Centre and a part of her mother's fashion design and retail business team] and I have succeeded in injecting traditional block printing with contemporary design to create prints that appeal to both the Indian and overseas markets" he told me. As I poured over his lookbook that covered the entire production process from creating dyes and hand carving wooden blocks to the end-product found in the store… I was awestruck and accepted his kind offer of visiting the workshop to observe the production of their new collection.

 

It was an eye-opener. Buying chic cotton garments at their store, one cannot comprehend the degree of skill and work that goes into the creation and placement of motifs and the application of pressure [which has hardened the artisans hands]. At the workshop, RadhaKrishnan introduced me to the team and a young lady took me through the process of production spread over four floors. In hand block printing, the design is first carved on a wooden block. The cloth is bleached and dyed — only natural plant-derived and non-toxic chemical fabric dyes are used. The cloth is then stretched over the surface where handblock printing takes place. It is double checked by the team before production and checked once again before the garments are packed and shipped to the retail stores.

 

My last thoughts on leaving the workshop were that while green processes have been adopted for production, there is no compromise on style. And, RadhaKrishnan Nair has achieved his vision of providing formal training and sustainable income to rural communities. Salut.
 

 
 
 
 
 
23-APRIL-2019
 
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