BANGALORE MIRROR, 13 SEP 2015
Article by : Vidya Iyengar, Bangalore Mirror Bureau
Date : Sep 13, 2015, 04.00 AM IST
Three designers are reconnecting with their traditional roots by working with ancient weaves which are facing the danger of extinction
Their designs are edgy and contemporary — relevant to the millennials. But the weaves are traditional — still relevant to the millennials. But this revival of designs, which are on the verge of dying, has no room for the mix 'n' match concept. Instead, these three designers follow a process that is organic. Their inspiration comes from cultural heritage and pioneering women. And their mission: preserving the core aesthetics and heritage of ancient crafts. The Kaithari Project by Rasmi Poduval and Vimala Viswambharan has begun the restoration and preservation of the antique weaves of Kerala, which is likely to die out with this generation of weavers. Ron Dutta's Fatherland is working with the weavers in the tribal areas of Orissa, Tamil Nadu, with special permits, where tourists are not admitted any more. And Jonali Saikia Khasnabish's Heeya, works with the under-explored handwoven traditions of North East India and strives to achieve the fusion between fashion and sustainability.
'I want to work with vanishing weaves' (Ron Dutta is redefining old-world charm through his work with Kotpad and Kornad handwoven sarees)
Back in 2008, when Ron Dutta was travelling through Goa, he came across a couple of fisherwomen weaving the kunbi saree. He discovered that they were the last-generation weavers, who were weaving the last few kunbi sarees which were on their way - not to be worn, but to a museum. That was the jolt he needed to wake up to the fact that if something wasn't done, traditional weaves such as these would be lost to us forever. "What I'm doing is a desperate attempt to hold on to the vanishing Indian artistry," Dutta says. This prompted him to start Fatherland, which has become synonymous with revival of hand woven saris and tribal jewellery, in 2012.
Dutta says he prefers to stick to the traditional weaves. Currently, he's working with Kornad (a weave from Tamil Nadu) and Kotapad (a rare weave of tribal Orissa). "I wanted to work with vanishing weaves," he says. And his efforts have paid off. In 2015, Kalki Koechlin made a red carpet appearance in a Kotpad saree for the screening of Margarita With a Straw in China. "That was the real pay-off. Even though Vidya Balan has also worn one of our creations, it was Kalki, who rarely makes an appearance in a saree, who took me by surprise," Dutta says. "That is making a statement." It also spells hope for a fading tradition and community.
Going in search of the weavers to the Andhra and Orissa border, Dutta was warned by his hotel staff that the Naxal-heavy area wasn't safe. They weren't open to photography or art. But Dutta went ahead anyway and managed to reach the single weaver family that specialises in the Kotpad hand woven sarees. What he discovered was illuminating, if a touch sad. The production rate - about seven to 10 sarees a month- is born of a primitive process. The yarn, which is organic cotton and sometimes tussar silk, is first extra softened in castor oil and cow dung for seven days.
No chemical is used for dyeing, except a natural dye made from 'Aal' (Madder) tree. The root bark of the tree is powdered and soaked in water for many days, to make a paste, along with 'Harikari' or Sulphate Of Iron. The unbleached yarn is dyed with the non-toxic paste and sun dried for another week. The weaving in done by hands in a pit loom, and is hence extremely time consuming. It takes a very long time to weave one sari, some taking about three months just to weave. "The weave has an understated and a uniquely refined charm, which has soothed the eyes of the sari aesthetes," he says.
One year ago, Dutta created a bridal version of the tribal weave - no silk, no zari just the richness of the weave was to command attention. Certain that the saree wouldn't sell, Dutta had thought it would be part of a collector's item. But much to his surprise, the saree which took two and a half months to create was sold within four hours of being uploaded on the website. While their sarees generally cost between 2,000 and 5,000, the bridal saree was priced at Rs 28,500.Dutta is also working with Kornad hand woven sarees, known as the 'Old Chettinads'. These were woven for offerings to temple deities in Tamil Nadu. Characterised by broad borders, these 70-thread count cottons are quite heavy.
These forgotten weaves are gaining recognition. "It is getting noticed probably because it's a refreshing change," Dutta says. "I will make a breakthrough when women in their 20s wear these saris."
'Aim is to retain the essence of the age-old weaving techniques of Kerala' (Rasmi Poduval & Vimala Viswambharan bring alive the history, complexity and beauty of Kerala's Kaithari) In 2011, Rasmi Poduval and her mother-in-law Vimala Viswambharan started Seamstress in Thrissur, Kerala, dedicated to the Kerala Handloom or Kaithari as it is known in Malayalam. "We worked with Ikat weavers, Ajrakh block printers, Bandhni dyers and handloom weavers from all over India. Somewhere along the line we realised that we had never worked with Kaithari," Poduval says. "Not many are aware of the skill it takes to create these weaves." Seamstress acts as a medium to support these niche weavers," says Poduval who brings the works of Seamstress to Bengaluru very often.
It was a chance visit to a weaving co-operative in Chendamangalam that made them realise that there is more to Kerala-weaving than the white-gold Kerala kodi. There was an untapped wealth of weaving techniques honed over centuries of weaving influences -from the royals, the Portuguese and the British. "Sadly, it was in a lamentable state - a dying craft form - with very few from the new generation taking up the craft due to the poor pay scale. A few looms functioning in large old buildings that housed over 500 looms in their heydays are now manned by old men and a few women," she says.
The Kaithari project looks to revive and preserve this heritage craft form. For it, Poduval travels the length and breadth of the state regularly to "tell the story of the rich history, complexity and beauty of Kerala's Kaithari craft and to capture the imagination of a whole new generation of users". This, she feels is the only way the craftspeople will get their due, which in turn will inspire a new generation of weavers to take up the craft, hence keeping it alive. While they work around the colours, yarn and reed, the original weave is kept intact "to create a vibrant and edgy line of garments."
It was during one of these travels that she came across the Kavaya thuni, a traditional garment worn by the Anglo-Indian (Parangi) women of Fort Kochi. (The word Kavaya is derived from the Malaysian word Kebaya). The Kavaya thuni was the traditional dress of the Malacca women that the Portugese brought over as wives - a sarong of sorts worn under a long flowery shirt. When the Portugese married local women they adopted the practice of wearing the Kebaya - which became the Kavaya thuni. The beauty of the Kavaya was in the geometric complexity of its weave - a square chequered block within which there were four tiny chequered blocks - each of which was different from the other. This is now woven only in an obscure handloom society off Kannur in one of the multi treadle frame looms set up by the German Basel missionary.
The Kaithari project has drawn inspiration from the colours - blood red, peachy pink, parrot green, inky blue — and the cultural heritage of the land. "For instance, there is a certain art of appliqueing that the theyyam artists do on their ceremonial robes. We have collaborated with a few leading theyyam artists to translate this design into our textiles," she says. The Onam collection included blouses similar to those worn by writers and freedom fighters of the pre-Independence era, but with a contemporary spin. The rouka without buttons or hooks, simply held together by a rough knot was given a design twist - the blouses have longer bodies with an option to tie them in the front.
They have worked with all the major weaving hubs in Kerala - Kannur, Chendamangalam, Thrissur in Phase I of the project, and have started work with consortiums in Neyyatinkara and Kasargod in Phase II. The pure cotton collection with history that the Seamstress offers at their 100-year-old home, has takers in working women, homemakers and students. "We are working in a way that will appeal to the younger generation," Poduval says.
'The clothes should have a cultural stamp' (Jonali Saikia Khasnabish brings the weaves of the North East to the South in all their unstitched glory)
When Jonali Saikia Khasnabish (42) worked in the corporate space, she often wore the traditional garments of the North East - mekhla chadar, sarongs and stoles - to work. Co-workers would often ask her to bring back these garments, which were a rarity in Bengaluru. Soon she realised that the North East wasn't associated with a particular weave like how the Kanjivaram was associated with the South, the bandhini with Rajasthan, the patola with Mahrashtra...and so on. This, even with every woman in a North Eastern household having to learn weaving, and every household having a loom.
She had gone to Fabindia several times, where the collection from the North East was an apology". "When I checked with them, they said that it was a troubled area and no one really wanted to get down to the brass tacks," she says. Khasnabish then embarked on the mega-project, which culminated in the formation of Heeya in 2012 to bring down to South weaves rooted in tradition and which had stories to tell. She started from scratch — approaching the government for a list of co-operative societies in the North East. She was clear that she didn't want to work with individual weavers, because it wouldn't create a national impact. When she went to meet the 1,000 registered co-operatives societies in the eight north eastern states, she realised that only 15 were active.
Though initially Heeya offered tunics, tops and skirts made from traditional fabric with contemporary cuts, she later realised "that the beauty of this particular weave comes to the fore with an unstitched garment." While it would have been "easy" to offer the mekhla chadar, Khasnabish knew that it wouldn't be a sustainable business option. "They are mostly looked at as a novel product, which people would buy only for an occasion, especially in the South," she says.
At the same time, the saree, which would sell extensively here, was a garment that was "completely new to the weavers of the North East". "The width of the loom to make a mekhla chadar is 39 and that of a saree is 44; the weavers weren't open to change," she says. Khasnabish got the weavers to weave eight inches of uninterrupted cloth (which was then used for the border of a saree) and four inches which was woven and used for the pallu. The last mile finishing then would be done in Bengaluru. But much has changed in the last couple of years. With help from Khasnabish, some weavers have gotten a loan to buy a modern loom on which sarees can be woven.
Khasnabish has also started working with the weavers of the Mishing tribe, who are known to design multiple weaves in different colours at the same time. Also, they come up with the design as they weave. From never having woven a saree, today, the group, which is very quick with weaving makes 60 sarees a month. "We're focused on traditional designs rather than mixing and match. The garments should have a cultural significance, identity and a stamp of the place of its origin — that should come through," she says.
TIME OF INDIA, SUNDAY TIMES, 13 SEP 2015
Reinventing the two-piece
by Greeshma Giri & Anasooya Sakthidharan
For a long time, they had remained consigned to granny closets in Kerala. But now the mundum neriyathum (a two-piece sari) and the rouka (a bottomless bodice with string ties at the bottom) are making a return, but crafted and designed differently.
Take the 6.25-metre mundum neriyathum, better known set mundu. Once designed minimally with a single-colour border and zari, it now often comes crafted with tissue, embellished with mirrors, fringed with Banarsi brocade, painted, embroidered with floral patterns and sometimes even stitched up as ready-to-wear ensemble.
The handloom purist might recoil in horror at the idea of overstating the understated set mundu but they were the obvious flavour of the latest Onam season. Most wearables and handloom e-tailers displayed jazzed-up set mundus. And boutique owners stocked endless variations on the theme. "A block-print pattern running along the border and partially on the pleats is trendy and very popular among youngsters," says Sheila James of Czarina, a Thiruvananthapuram boutique.
Designer Maithri Srikant, who runs Vedhika in Thiruvananthapuram, goes several steps further. She uses radically different fabrics for the set, uppada silk and chiffon, for instance. She also uses cutwork, kalamkari applique work, kundan work, sometimes even reinterpreting Kerala mural paintings for use on the ensemble. She is also not beyond attaching a fancy lace border to the drape. These are really expensive creations that cost between Rs 5,900 and Rs 15,000.
It isn't just common wear, tradition is also inspiring designers. NID-trained Sreejith Jeevan has restyled the rouka, the tie-up blouse that went out of fashion decades ago. A full-sleeved, long bodice, with the bottoms caught and tied, it wasn't quite the bold thing the modern string blouse is. Jeevan, however, has reworked it into a knotted top.
"I am inspired by the rouka used by our grandmothers but the blouses I have come up with can be teamed with a sari skirt or pants," says Jeevan, even naming his boutique Rouka.
Rasmi Poduval of Thrissur-based boutique Seamstress says reinterpreting old-style elements also gives a fresh lease of life to handloom fabrics. On her site, she offers a modern version of the rouka, buttoned, fitted and embellished but with a string tie at the bottom. Unlike the traditional cream (kora) or white rouka, this one could be a fiery red or purple.
Another Syrian Christian garment that's got a modern makeover is the chatta mundu. The chatta is a loose-fitting, V-necked long top worn over a dhoti with pleats (njori) at the back. The top, unlike the blouse, conservatively covers the waist. A kavani (dupatta) is tucked behind and draped across the shoulder.
This chatta mundu, once rejected for being too plain, is finding its way back into wardrobes, especially at Christian weddings. Actors like Ann Augustine and Mukta had highly publicized weddings wearing the chatta mundu, and designers say they are flooded with enquiries. "Quite a few young brides are more than happy to wear the chatta mundu, stitched in spotless cream," said Seema, who runs Perfect-3, a boutique for wedding clothes. Some brides are opting for different fabrics like linen or getting it heavily embellished with zardozi.
From roots to stylish routes
Article by : The Hindu
Date : August 7, 2015
If it is about going back to the basics, this is as basic as it can get. The thorth, the traditional Kerala bathing towel, widely known as the gamcha, is now a chic accessory. From the humble piece of cloth now comes a range of wardrobe stunners such as stoles, summer shawls, sarongs, kaftans, tunics and scarves. Traditional handloom fabrics that are woven in ageing looms by weaving communities in the small villages of Kerala are being contemporised in a big way. A little bit of streamlining and playing with design possibilities have catapulted these fabrics to the fashion high street. While reviving age-old weaving techniques, the brands doing this are also looking at creating a market for conscientious clothing.
Working along similar lines is The Kaithari Project, a prêt line by Seamstress, a customised tailoring unit. Drawing inspiration from handloom, it works with small societies across Kerala, picking and choosing from the State’s historical tapestry to create a new look. Only that it has given the staple cream with gold combination a miss. The colours here are fiery – crimsons, blood oranges, parrot greens and dramatic blues. The line specialises in dresses, jackets, tunics, tops and kurtas. The ready-to-wear sari blouses are a special attraction. Old-world shirt blouses and the rouka (bodice tied at the front) will be introduced soon, too.
Kaithari is now working with Theyyam (a performance art popular in northern Kerala) artistes to recreate a particular appliquéing technique used in their costumes. “We have commissioned two artistes to work with our team. We have not tampered with the original. However, a little design intervention is necessary,” says Rasmi Poduval, co-founder of Kaithari. The appliqué work will feature as borders and as other patterns in the limited-edition line which will be called the ‘Theyyam Collection’. Kaithari uses Malayalam names such as Manjadikuru (vermilion), Mittai pink (candy pink), Kilipacha (parrot green), Neelakili (blue bird), Mailanchi (henna green) and Neelamashi (ink-blue). “We felt it takes us closer to where we draw our ideas from – Nature, and our tradition,” Rasmi adds.
For those who believe that style is about making a statement, there seems to be no dearth of stuff. History buffs, for instance, will like to wear a piece that pays tribute to a weaving tradition left over by the Portuguese in Fort Kochi. The ‘kavaya thuni’, which is woven in a small weaving unit in Kannur in multi-treadle frame looms set up by the German Basel Missionary, has now been converted into smart dresses by Kaithari. “The cloth has a unique geometric pattern. It is a square chequered block, within which four tiny chequered blocks are contained,” says Rasmi. Wearing tradition on your sleeve is totally cool now, as the founder of Seamstress and co-founder of Kaithari, Vimala Viswambharan, says, “There is so much interest in going native now. Anything that is natural and ethnic evokes so much curiosity.”
Colours of the loom
Article by : The Hindu
Date : April 17, 2015
Blood red and parrot green in handloom? A new project threads a dramatic palette of colours into the white and cream of Kerala handloom
Handloom fabrics have a distinct identity. They have a history, they are deeply connected to the lives of weaving communities and they speak of a skill handed down generations. Designers over the years have played with the immense possibilities of handloom, reinventing and re-packaging it.
The latest twist to the handloom comes from Vimala Viswambharan and her daughter-in-law Rasmi Poduval. The duo from Thrissur has interpreted the Kerala handloom in a unique way in their new prêt line, ‘Kaithari’. The project looks at the Kerala handloom in an entirely different light. “Handloom in Kerala is associated with the staple cream and gold colour combination. We have introduced a dramatic palette of colours. Think blood red, parrot green... in handloom,” she says.
Vimala, who has been in the fabric industry for over 30 years, running her customised tailoring unit in Thrissur, says the Kaithari project took off after a year of research and field visits. Her store in the city, ‘Seamstress’, had been dealing with handlooms from various parts of India. “When Rasmi brought up the idea of doing something with our own kaithari , I realised we haven’t really explored the Kerala handloom and have not experimented with it. There is a lot of potential in it,” she says.
Over the past year, Rasmi travelled to various small weaving pockets scattered over northern and central Kerala. First was Kannur, where she interacted with a number of co-operative societies that have been in the business for over 100 years. “Their skill and technique are unique. I spoke to many societies to work out design possibilities and most of them were receptive to new ideas,” says Rasmi, who is an alumnus of IIM, Bangalore.
The way the project functions does not disturb the weaver. “We go to their unit and discuss the design and the finer elements such as the yarn, the count and the dye. They come up with their suggestions too. And we work around what the weavers originally do,” Rasmi says. For phase one of the project, Rasmi and Vimala worked with five handloom co-operative societies in Kannur and Chendamangalam.
The societies in Kerala, unlike those in some other parts of the country, function rather democratically. “A society is a compact unit by itself. It has a secretary, who is generally a weaver . Then there are weavers, dyeing masters and weaving masters,” Rasmi says. “Since there are no middle men involved, the monetary benefits reach the weavers directly,” she adds.
The plan is to involve similar units from all over Kerala. Balaramapuram in Thiruvananthapuram, Koothampully in Thrissur and a few weaving clusters in Palakkad are known for their distinct weaving techniques.
Interactions with weaving societies also led to discoveries. The ‘Kavaya thuni’, which is worn by the Anglo Indian women of Portuguese descent in Fort Kochi, is woven in an obscure handloom society off Kannur in one of the multi treadle frame looms set up by the German Basel missionary.
The uniqueness of the ‘kavaya’ lies in the geometric complexity of its weave—a square chequered block within which four tiny chequered blocks are contained. The Kavaya has been a major inspiration in the range of textiles in the Kaithari Project, Rasmi says.
The handloom industry in Kerala has been on the verge of a crisis as the younger generation of weavers no longer finds the job lucrative. “Lack of design interventions too have led to the textiles having a jaded look. It is this gap that we have attempted to bridge. A large part of our project is aimed at encouraging the new generation to use handloom—to make them understand the complexity, beauty, skill and history behind handloom,” Rasmi says.
Vimala and Rasmi also see it as an attempt at reviving ancient weaves and keeping the tradition alive.
Handloom is the best fabric for the Kerala weather, says Vimala, as it is a breathing fabric. It absorbs sweat too. However, its high maintenance makes it less preferred. Handloom clothes generally need to be starched and ironed, she adds.
The prêt line is youthful and has an edgy look. The collection includes dresses, tunics, tops, kurtas, saris and blouses. Later, dupattas and stoles would also be introduced. Textile designer Ravikiran helped with the design, creating a totally different perspective on handloom, without losing the essence of the traditional technique. The project also sought help from the Indian Institute of Handloom Technology.
The Kaithari Project was launched on April 11 and is available at Vimala’s store, ‘Seamstress’, in Thrissur. The clothes can also be ordered online (www.seamstress.co.in). Online sale will open only after a week.
Weaving A Yarn
Article by : The New Indian Express
Reference : http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/5041985
Fruits of the loom
Article by : The Hindu
Date : March 6, 2014
Rasmi, of The Seamstress duo, who only work with handloom fabric, says they have the advantage of getting their clothes to fit right for the Indian woman
The Seamstress’ recent collection at the Vermillion House features garments in colours of red and indigo.
Their collection, featuring fabrics from all over India, is a mixture of some Western silhouettes and kurtas, according to Rasmi Poduval, one of the founders of the label.
The Seamstress was originally started with a store in Thrissur in 2011 by Vimala Viswambharan, who has over 30 years of experience in bespoke tailoring, with Rasmi, her daughter-in-law, a management graduate from IIM-B.The duo travels across the country to source fabrics, working with weavers from Mangalgiri, Pochampally, and Bikaner to block printers from Barmer, Pipar and Kutch and come back to work in their design studio in Thrissur.
“Every year we come out with five or six main collections depending upon the season. We mix and match our garments. We don’t stick to a particular textile all the time but we work specifically with handloom fabrics unless it is block print. But we never work with power loom fabrics,” says Rasmi.
Their next collection features the Jaipuri fabric with block prints and a brush of bling, which they say they usually stay away from. They also plan to work with linen and khadi later this year.“Now we are also working with weavers of hand-woven fabrics from Kerela, who are based in an ancient weaving hub called Kaitari (in Malayalam). We worked with them to create special textiles for us. We realised that there aren’t many people working with local weavers,” explains Rasmi. The collection will be released later this year.
Both Rasmi and Vimala believe that their garments are not age-specific and are designed for a whole demographic from 16 to 60. “But it’s more about sensibility than age,” says Rasmi, “because we have a certain aesthetic. Our designs are usually classy, elegant and subtle. Our clothes are not blingy, we don’t use sequins. They are almost minimal to the point of being stark because we let the textile take the focus. Sometimes the textile itself is so overpowering that all we do is accentuate it with something like coconut shell buttons. So we find that people, from across all ages, who come to buy our work have that kind of aesthetic sensibility.”
One of their USPs, believes Rasmi, is their fit. “We created sizes based on Vimala’s experience in tailoring because there is no Indian standard size in garments. Our sizes are not the same as the other brands. Since we come from a tailoring background, our sizes are more practical and they fit Indian women much better.”
For their summer collection, they have worked with floral prints with “a hint of sparkle”, using hand block printed fabric with floral motifs on pastel shades with mokaish work and embroidery.
The recent collection by The Seamstress, priced between Rs. 900 and Rs. 3000, is on view at Vermillion House, Benson Town. Call 41225830.
Of cuts and dyes
Article by : The New Indian Express
Date : December 6, 2013
A Kerala-based duo brings a collection of wearable weaves through Seamstress
Vimala Viswambaran, a reputed seamstress from Thrissur, Kerala, joins forces with her textile savvy daughter-in-law Rasmi Poduval to create a ready-to-wear Indo-Western line under the label Seamstress. They emphasise superior cuts and quality fabrics. Seamstress operates out of a charming old bungalow in Thrissur, also a work studio that houses all her personally trained tailors. Their festive collection in shades of indigo and deep-red alzarin is geared towards the celebratory month ahead.
“We source from artisans across the country that my mother-in-law has worked with for over two decades, along with a great bank of dyers, block-printers and weavers. So starting our own label was a natural progression,” begins Poduval who comes from a corporate marketing background. Watching Viswam-baran at work over the years was a major inspiration, she admits.
“Our focus is on the finesse of the cut and fine detailing. So we don’t use much embellishment but a lot of interesting patterns and dyes,” Poduval shares.
They work with indigenous weavers from Mangalgiri, Pochampally and Bikaner and block-printers from Barmer, Pipar and Kutch for fabrics that are often times crafted specially for them. “We work very closely with the craftsmen and our own tailors to deliver a fit and sensibility that suits the modern Indian woman best,” Poduval tells us as she describes the unique sizing they have developed based on Viswambaran’s years of hands-on experience.
Their current collection that centres around the blue-red colour scheme, uses classic Indian fabrics like ajrakh, ikat and khadi in a range of Indo-Western wear with sharp silhouettes and clever detailing. The tunics, dresses, kurtis, tops and kurtas come with contrast panelling and cross-stitch borders — a modern blend of sophistication and comfort. We particularly liked the interplay of plain fabrics with hand-worked patches.
Rs 1,500 upwards. Till Sunday. At Basava Ambara, Basavangudi. Details: 26561940
Tieconkerala - Speaker Notes
Article by : Tiecon Kerala 2014
Rasmi after graduating from the IIM-Bangalore worked with Coca-Cola & Saregama. She started “Seamstress” in 2011 with Vimala (her mother-in-law), who made her want to learn more about weaving and pattern making. Seamstress is located in a 100 year old bungalow & was opened in April, 2011 in Thrissur, Kerala, their hometown.
She feels that the art of weaving & pattern making is an undervalued science in India. Rasmi feels that ‘Good tailoring is at the heart of a beautiful garment. That’s where we come in, the years of tailoring experience shows in the construct of our clothes.
Rasmi works with weavers from Mangalgiri, Pochampally, & Bikaner, block printers from Barmer, Pipar & Kutch. We travel far & wide to source & design our fabric. Through Seamstress we hope to cultivate an appreciation of the fine art of tailoring & craftsmanship.
A fashionable stitch in time
Article by : The Hindu
Date : October 2, 2011
Vimala Viswambharan calls herself a seamstress, at a time when anybody with a passing acquaintance with a sewing machine calls herself/himself a designer. She asserts, proudly after 30 years of sewing, that she is first a seamstress and nothing will change that.
She has been running a customised tailoring unit, Vimala's in Thrissur since 1995. In April this year she launched her own label and store, ‘Seamstress' in Thrissur.
Most women, as little girls, have dressed up dolls and Vimala just carried that passion over and made it her profession. As a young woman she took to tailoring her own clothes.
Once she got married, her husband's transferable job took her to many parts of the country. And one of those places was Bombay where she got a diploma – in cutting and tailoring.
Unglamorous as it sounds, “those days the term ‘fashion designer' hadn't entered the popular lexicon,” she says. In the early 80s she did a cutting and tailoring course from Zarapkar's College of Cutting and Tailoring in Dadar, she reminisces.
The next step was setting up a customised tailoring unit. “Not so much a unit as a single tailor set-up in the house.” She would sew for friends and gradually word would spread and so would the orders. Next transfer, ditto.
Eventually, in the early 90s, she got to Thiruvananthapuram where she set up a slightly elaborate customised tailoring unit which grew to almost 20 tailors. In 1995 she moved to Thrissur and took ‘Vimala's' along.
She scaled down the operation there. “I didn't want too many tailors as it got unwieldy in Thiruvananthapuram. But gradually it grew.”
This year in April, sixteen years later, Vimala added ‘Seamstress' to Vimala's. A customised tailoring unit is one thing and label is a different, she agrees, but not too different.
Her experience cutting fabric and tailoring – in short being a seamstress holds her in good stead she says. So called designers today depend on cutters and master tailors, and since she started out that way, “I know how a garment is created – cut, stitched etc.”
This confidence along with aptitude and experience makes designing not to tough.
The toughest garment to stitch? “it has to be the blouse,” Vimala jokes.
‘Seamstress' garments are Indian ethnic wear using handlooms only. Handlooms are sourced from across the country. She stocks sizes from extra, extra small (xxs) to extra, extra large (xxl).
Every month she stocks the store with a new collection of garments and October is devoted to khadi.
“A personal favourite. This hand-woven fabric has a texture, feel…unevenness even which I like. I have used this fabric in my eponymous ‘Khadi collection'.”