Reflecting on the direction Fashion will take post- pandemic, there would be greater appreciation for slow, artisanal craft. The crisis will prompt consumers to reassess values and shift spend towards quality and sustainability. Consume less, consume responsibly. So, it's no surprise that designers and brands are focusing on reviving textile crafts and taking it global with a modern design sensibility. Here is the story of seventy- year old brand, Shanti Banaras, which revives and retails Banaras' textile craft with sustainable, authentic production and wealth creation for weaver clusters. In conversation with Amrit Shah, Creative Director, Shanti Banaras.


''I remember my first visit to a loom when I was just twelve. I was amazed and perplexed by the looms… seeing threads entering a tight narrow place on one side, getting pressed, and becoming a fabric. It was wonderful. Only later did I realise it was a lot more complicated than what I had imagined… yet it was magic. As a teenager, though, I aspired to be a theatre artist, actor and director. I pursued the creative arts during college and then shifted interest towards colours and design. Back then I had no clue I would pursue anything in Fashion or business of any sort. I was a man of creativity and design but somehow I realised that one has to be practical to support your creativity. Currently my designs involve theatrics and is a platform for my creativity!!


My grandmother Shanti told me that my great grandfather would sketch designs by hand and then give it for graphing and weaves. He has made a name for himself in every household of Benaras and in several states — that is our legacy. I once travelled to forty cities and towns, and everywhere I went, people who didn't really know me were greeting me and welcomed me. That day I realised we had not only made sarees for every Indian but we're in the business of winning them over too. That is a part of our legacy and it's a great honour to take the mantle of this responsibility. Our dream still remains true to its origin where we wish one saree for every Indian and we have been expanding our product line and customer base to realise this dream. A core ideology that has stayed with us from inception of the brand seventy years ago — Customer. Customer. Customer. We surround our world with what clients want. We upgraded and structured ourselves to understand our core customers' needs and build on that. This doesn't mean we're creating commercial sarees; we understand their taste and inject it with creativity. That's how we've evolved and developed into serving customer demand, on course with trends and survived storms. Our first retail store was a demand- driven step where our manufacturing brand had made an impact on end- consumers who would come searching for us in Varanasi with my grandfather and father's name written on a piece of paper. They would find us somehow and would ask to purchase. This led us to opening our doors for retail customers four years ago.


Much of our work is engaged with weavers' empowerment. The state of Banaras' artisanal community wasn't promising as it was an unorganised sector and weavers' craft wasn't getting its due. Lack of business opportunity, less knowledge about the market and unwillingness of the younger lot to take up the craft had pushed the artisan community towards a slow decline. Exodus of weavers from handloom to other jobs is a shame because this is an art and not just another job that can be replicated by machines. If we lose this art, there will come a day when we will only have samples of lost art and craftsmanship. So, we have to dedicate ourselves to protecting it for future generations. Our weavers are daily wage earners and most of them live on wages for weaving. We have always believed in wealth creation rather than giving money for work done. Over the years we have worked with the same weavers and master weavers, and empowered them through work, which has resulted in the weavers being able to build their own homes, own lands amongst other things. So the basic question we keep asking ourselves is if a certain person is associated with us then what has he gained in the economical strata since the past five years?


The process of handcrafting a saree isn't as simple as it looks. A saree draped around a woman, or hanging at a store, was designed months before it retails. Even a saree with a simple border and buti is made keeping in mind a traditional technique which we choose to revive. We go through several art forms before choosing one and try to align it with the client we imagine will wear it. For example, what will a bride's mother wear for the reception? Perhaps a gold woven tissue with vintage temple-style hand embroidered border. When we visualise this, we find inspiration from temple art with the help of in-house designers. They compile images, colours and build a theme board. Then we bring our sketch artists to work and ask them to recreate designs based on the theme and relative to a Benarasi. Once the designs are developed with border, body, pallu and blouse, we give it to a grapher who graphs it based on the type of loom that it is to be woven on and the fabric that shall best bring out the design. Before this, we also have meetings with master weavers to conceptualise the saree and how can it be made differently by changing the placements, colours or fabric; while doing this we also decide if a certain master weaver shall be able to do justice to the design. Once the graphs are ready we give it to the master weaver who gives it out for building Jacquards for the looms which is also a hand done process and takes over one month depending on the 'khewa' of a design. Further, when the jacquard is in place then the weaver weaves a sample for the chief designer who then confirms the style in which the saree is to be woven. Before this, the weaver is also given colours for the warp and weft which he sets up before weaving a sample. It is only after a few samples and corrections that the first saree is woven. This itself takes three- four months — from inception to the first saree which most of the times is still not the perfect one, but to support weavers and motivate them we let them weave it. There is a famous saying in Benaras that when there is a small weaving mistake in a saree, it is always referred to as 'yeh toh pehli saree hai' and the buyer takes it willingly, considering the mistakes as proof!!''

SHANTI BANARAS Amrit Shah, Creative Director, Shanti Banaras






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