By Hand From The Heart is a curated Makers Market event in South India. Upcoming Events: 22nd Edition: 2nd – 3rd February '18 in Coimbatore | 23rd Edition: 16th – 17th – February '18 in Chennai.
Designer Preeti Raja of The Revival Project crafts clothing that are fashionable and desirable with Indian textiles. Based in Mumbai, the designer talks about her influences, inspirations and her plans for her creative business.
A bit about yourself.
My childhood was spent as a tomboy learning to be a lady in the westernised environs of army cantonments in northern India. But summers were different. Summers were about visiting grandparents in a green fertile village overlooking the Nilgiri mountains in the Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu.
The memories of those summers are still vivid: grannyʼs whitewashed house, dung plated veradah, tiled roof, wearing cotton pavadas, making cold pressed coconut oil at home, delivering grandpaʼs five storied lunchbox in a nylon home woven psychedelic basket at the farm, threading jasmine flowers every evening, granny doing yoga as well as a thousand chores around the house, elegantly draped in her workday saree.
After a decade in financial services and banking, and another decade as a homemaker, I finally had the courage to do what seems like a dream, working with fabrics I love. Each piece of The Revival Project clothing is fashioned from traditional handwoven fabrics, whether a saree, dhoti, lungi or gamcha and displays its heritage and history in its fabric, color combination or border design. These fabrics survived rough use and were comfortably airy in the hottest summers. By reimagining them in modern and contemporary silhouttes, I hope to connect us to a different era and bring some of that comfort, elegance and simplicity back into our lives.
How would you describe what you do; and how long have you been making and creating?
I would like to believe that what I do makes our culture and heritage relevant.I have been working on this for a year and half now. I launched the brand 4 months ago, and the reponse has been overwhelmingly encouraging.
Why is making important to you?
I believe what I am doing is unique. I want to make indian textiles fashionable and desirable. I am terribly small but I can see the impact if I and labels like mine succeed. If people bought handwoven indian textiles like they buy garments from international fashion stores, it would change the tide for handwoven fabrics. At the very least, we would not have to worry about our 1000 plus years of textile heritage going extinct.
What was the first thing you remember making?
The first usable handmade thing I made was a a full sleeved heavy duty woollen pullover at 17. With help and guidance from a dear aunt. I put it to very good use through quite a few winters in Jammu and Srinagar.
Whatʼs your most challenging work so far.
The most challenging part of my work is to create a garment that shows its origins, retains its culture, (whether itʼs a saree or lungi or gamcha), and at the same time looks completely new, unexpected, interesting, fashionable as well as being wearable, practical and comfortable.
ʻThe ʻtraffic lightsʼ dress made from the yellow and red pallum-pallamum checked saree has an assymetrical hem turned up at the sides. Itʼs young, fun, casual and easy. And beautifully complements the traditional checks of the fabric.
Tell us about your recent works and your proposed showcase at the By Hand, From The Heart.
I have been working with gamchas and lungis, the last month and a half. Traditionally male fabrics, I look forward to introducing these as fashion wear for women.
What/who inspires you?
My grandmothers have been my biggest inspirations. They did yoga as well as swam clothed in sarees. They wear sarees with such comfort and confidence, itʼs inspirational.
Can you describe your creative process and what is the most rewarding partof the creative process for you?
To see other people looking so good in what I have created. And most times, in completely different ways than I imagined. We designed this wrap dress that was made from a veshti. It looked good on me and on the mannequinn (we had a size 6 mannequin then) and so it went into production. Two of the first customers who bought it were chubby or as we say in India healthy, their curves filled the dress and it looked fabulous, better than we could ever have imagined.
Another customer bought our very elegant and lady like ʻplaying the angelʼ dress and teamed it with white sneakers, totally changing the vibe but it was beautiful that way too.
How do you get around creative blocks?
Design is very visual. One doesnʼt necessarily need an education to understand color or fit, itʼs all in what appeals to the eye. Sometimes, itʼs a friend who drops in or the masterji who is in charge of cutting but quite often it is the lowly label stitcher/ all-around errand boy who has the inspiration to crack the block.
Describe your work place / space?
Space is such a luxury in Mumbai, I feel very lucky to have a small, yet beautiful studio in a quiet lane in the heart of South Mumbai.
Whatʼs the best thing about being a designer?
You get to explore and create anything that you want. I am slowly getting braver and bolder, putting fabrics to unimagined uses.
What advice would you share to those who want to take on their hobby/passion into a career?
After a decade of working at a conventional job, I would like to tell them that when you do what you love doing, there are no Monday morning blues. It can be hard, difficult and unpredictable but it still never ceases to be fun.
Chennai is the only metro I know which has preserved its past, in its customs, tradition, dressing and language. I see more people wearing sarees and veshtis here than anywhere else. As many restaurants serving local food as other cuisines.
And most heartening, little kids speaking in English but just as fluently in the vernacular. My lasting memory of the city are itʼs people. Chennai may be a large metropolis but it feels like an overgrown village. Neighbours and colleagues were friends as well as their relatives and their friends and many of these friendships have endured a decade after separation.
Designer Preeti Raja of The Revival Project will showcase her collection at By Hand From The Heart: MAKERS MARKET – 18th Edition
Friday – Saturday, 5th – 6th August, 2016
10:00 a.m – 8:00 p.m
Crowne Plaza Chennai Adyar Park
132, T.T.K Road, Alwarpet, Chennai – 600018, Tamil Nadu. India