Published: 06th August 2020
How these three NIFT students' fashion label is an ode to Odisha's traditional artisans
This brand is not just about business. They value their weavers as their family because they have been to their homes, shared stories and sat down on the same floor, trying to revive handlooms
After pursuing their Bachelor’s in Fashion Technology from NIFT Bhubaneswar, the three musketeers Kuldeep Das (24), Pranab Panda (24) and Priyanka Behera (23) felt so passionately about Odisha’s handlooms that they started Label Utpatti about two months ago. “While we might revel in our societal structure, the same framework forsakes artisans as low class. They doubt if their sons will be married or not because they are weavers. We often forget that the beautiful handloom that we drape on our body so proudly is made by the adept hands of these artisans. So, how is it a lowly job? We want to reform the way the world looks at our artisans and weavers,” declare the trio.
Kuldeep Das, Pranab Panda and Priyanka Behera | (Pic: Label Utpatti)
Label Utpatti is all about bringing back dignity for the artisans by showing the world their products. Take their sabai grass rakhis, for instance. Not only are they the perfect example of Odisha’s heritage but they are sustainable too. Also, their masks deserve a special mention. We talk to Pranab Panda about their vision, their products and why they are a brand you need to look out for. Excerpts:
Making rakhis | (Pic: Label Utpatti)
1. When and why did you start Label Utpatti? What are the goals you want to achieve through it?
The idea of Label Utpatti has been subconsciously floating in our minds for a while but the real execution started in July 2019. During the initial stage of planning, we were trying to build the little ‘Utpatti’ ecosystem by making connections with the artisans, carrying out innumerable explorations, research and infinite study of brands and their overall working. Finally, it was launched on May 1, 2020.
Kotapad natural dye | (Pic: Label Utpatti)
During our college days, we used to go for cluster visits, where we would spend a fortnight in numerous craft clusters of Odisha. That is when we were enlightened about the importance of crafts, their demand and rural craftspersons’ livelihood. It was a completely transforming experience for us and that was when we decided to do something remarkable in the field of craft, especially that of Odisha's. Moreover, there was a subject during our college days called CBPD (Craft-Based Product Development) which inspired in us numerous thoughts about developing the craft and making it more contemporary. It also made us realise how important it is to make millennials aware of this beautiful creation of the human mind.
Making of a rakhi | (Pic: Label Utpatti)
2. Tell us about how you connected with artisans and where are they based out of?
Being design students, we get the opportunity to participate in fashion shows, in and out of Bhubaneswar. It was during the craft melas that we met artisans and built contacts with them. Moreover, we belong to Odisha so, we have a good idea about the clusters and the crafts practised. Currently, we are working with four clusters of Odisha. We have been working with around ten rural artisan families. The process is still on, we have been building our contacts whenever and wherever possible.
Masks | (Pic: Label Utpatti)
3. Tell us about the masks that you are making. Which fabric is this made from?
We have been manufacturing three and four-layered masks with contemporary designs by procuring handwoven textiles like cotton ikat from Nuapatna, Cuttack, Kotapad; natural dye organic fabric from Koraput and handwoven linen from Taraboi, Khordha. The fabrics chosen are good for the skin and devoid of harmful chemical dyes. Also, these help artisans earn during this tough time. Utpatti has chosen to do its part in empowering our artisans who bring glory to our state. The products made and showcased are handcrafted, harmless and skin-friendly handwoven soft linen, natural dyes and cotton ikat. Team Utpatti owes their gratitude to the hardworking artisans.
The rakhis | (Pic: Label Utpatti)
4. Tell us about the rakhis and who is making them?
We would like to answer this question with gratitude because it has been quite a journey. We have a lot of people to thank for for the rakhis. We came to know about sabai grass rakhis from the Mayurbhanj district in Odisha last year. The Government of Odisha launched ORMAS (Odisha Rural Development and Marketing Society) to look over the rural development and crafts of the state. It supported women artisans from rural areas by creating SHGs (give full form), who practice the indigenous craft of their village and then, meet companies to help them with marketing. Mayur Shilpa, the producers' company formed by the coming together of many rural SHG groups, happened to provide an amazing platform to talented women who could make sabai grass rakhis. The craft designer of these sabai products, Chandini Khandelwal from ORMAS, who is also an alumna of NIFT, worked closely with the women to create the rakhi designs. Usha Rani Nayak, Gouri, Jayanti Nayak from Guhaldihi; Sumitra Barik and Anita from Andhari Sol; Urmila Dehuri, Jaya Dehuri from Dhinkia and Kuni from Moroda were the tribal women who were involved in the making of the rakhis.
Rakhis | (Pic: Label Utpatti)
But for the past one year, there were challenges in selling those products. That is when we decided to work together with Mayur Shilpa and also customise the sabai grass rakhis. Now, we have delivered sabai rakhis across India. We are overwhelmed with the response we have received and the recognition we have garnered for our artisans. We are glad Label Utpatti has been able to create and meet the demand for those rakhis.
Kotapat natural dye | (Pic: Label Utpatti)
5. What were your initial plans, before the pandemic, for the label and what are you doing now?
Before the pandemic struck, we had a good list of plans. We were about to start with handloom sarees, apparels along with handcrafted accessories of our own. We were basically gearing up to spread the word about our brand and connect with a more wide range of audiences. Just after the lockdown, we were obstructed by a number of problems, such as lack of transportation and communication, and that is the reason why we stopped visiting the artisans because we simply couldn’t communicate the ideas and designs to them. Thus, we came up with very minimal changes with regards to design that can be communicated via phone calls and via the internet.
Cotton ikat stole | (Pic: Label Utpatti)
It was during the pandemic when it was proved that fashion is not on the list of priority of needs. So after giving it a quick thought, we came up with the production of handloom masks which has proved itself as the utmost need of the hour. After that, we launched our rakhi collection exclusively made of sabai grass, which is completely sustainable. We provided rakhis across India through our online platform. Currently, we are coming up with new products like handcrafted cotton ikat stoles from Nuapatna, Cuttack and linen sarees from Bhagalpur, Bihar, so as to widen our niche. We have sold 400 products including masks, rakhis, stoles, sarees and dupattas.
Nuapatana tie and dye process | (Pic: Label Utpatti)
6. Because there are a lot of people working with artisans to help them, what are you doing differently?
When people think ‘artisan’, the next word that comes to their mind instantly is ‘handloom’. People have never thought beyond handloom. Odisha is such a hidden treasure. There are astounding handcrafted beauties being made in various clusters. Our question was, is it enough? Is it enough only to promote selected craft clusters which have already been recognised? Where will the other crafts go then? We chose the line beyond the mainstream and dared to explore the unexplored. And the result is in front of you. Here is how and why Label Utpatti is different and proudly stands out from others. If you scroll through our Instagram, it isn't about us. It is a storyboard of our artisans and customers. We wanted them to be the face of the brand.
Cotton ikat stole | (Pic: Label Utpatti)
7. What can we expect from the label in the future?
Currently, we are working with crafts and handlooms of Odisha but have a mission to touch all rural handloom and handicraft clusters from each corner of our country and we want to pass on all benefits to our artisans. Utpatti is the story of the origin — the origin of raw and authentic fabric from the rustic weaving villages of India, which has stood the test of time and it will continue to. We are constructing an omnichannel business platform globally. Utpatti is all about blooming gracefully from the odds.
The four clusters they work with:
- Subarnapur for Sambalpuri, bomkai and silk ikat textile
- Koraput-Kotapad for natural dye and organic cotton textiles
- Cuttack (Nuapatna) for cotton ikat textiles
- Gopalpur in Jajpur for tussar weaving, block-printing, screen-printing and tussar ikat textiles
For more on them, check out instagram.com/label_utpatti