ArtEastri was born in July 2016 as an experiment to work towards propelling crafts from Eastern India into mainstream fashion.
We were super excited when Ratnabali Mitra told us about her work and her plans for ArtEastri. From the economic impact she create through her work as well as her involvement in preserving traditional Indian textile crafts such as Kantha and Jamdhani, we knew this was a story that had to be shared with the world.
Read on to find out more about ArtEastri, in Ratnabali's own words. You can also browse her fantastic line of products here.
Beginning The Journey
Being a Bengali, there was a strong natural affinity and pride to start with crafts from my home-state. Why I chose crafted products is difficult to answer. I naturally veer towards anything crafted because they bring an unique appeal with a touch of history. I cannot deny my mother’s influence on me as she has been an avid craftswoman herself all her adult life. I remember visiting annual craft fairs both in Assam and Calcutta along with my mother and marvel at the products on display. Perhaps all those visits have had an impression strong enough to ignite an entrepreneurial spark in me much later in life!
As a professional, I have a management degree and had worked in banking and education sectors in the past. While not trained formally as a fashion designer, I have been learning on the job thanks to my artisan partners who are just proud of their work and craft. I have indeed capitalized my root connection to my two home states. ArtEastri has repositioned ancient crafts like Kantha embroidery and Jamdani weaving in a modern fashion accessory like Scarves, Stoles and wrap-around skirts. Currently I work directly with about 10 craft partners in Kantha embroidery and Handloom weaving who manufacture stoles or scarves / Dupattas or shawls and skirts to my design.
Meet one of my Kantha artists (on the right) from the Bolpur-Nanoor belt of Bengal
Kantha embroidery is mostly a woman-oriented avocation originating from rural Bengal. The women artisans I work with love their embroidery and will normally sit with their needlecraft in their free time. Kantha embroidery is a passion for these women.
Hand embroidery is highly labour intensive and time consuming. We decide on the base colour of the fabric and the embroidery thread colours before the work is allocated. The process begins with elaborate designs and intricate motifs sketched on tracing paper before being transferred onto the base fabric.
An inherent motif of Kantha work is real life experiences imprinted on a piece of cloth. Other themes comprises of folk tradition, animals, birds, floral motifs, tribal designs, geometrical shapes that matches with the ecstatic feel of Bengali community.
Each stole/ Scarf, hand embroidered for ArtEastri is a labour of love for the girls.
An artisan sketches a design on tracing paper
The artisan then colours in the designs before embroidering
The other craft from Bengal that ArtEastri seeks to popularize is “Jamdani”. Jamdani is a vividly patterned, sheer cotton fabric, traditionally woven on a handloom by craftspeople and apprentices around Santipur Katwa belt of Nadia District in West Bengal. But historically this craft has been and is being practiced mostly in Bangladesh. Jamdani textiles combine intricacy of design with muted or vibrant colours, and the finished garments are highly breathable.
Jamdani again is a time-consuming and labour-intensive form of weaving because of the richness of its motifs, which are created directly on the loom using the discontinuous weft technique. Weaving is thriving today due to the fabric’s popularity for making saris, the principal dress of Bengali women at home and abroad. The Jamdani sari is a symbol of identity, dignity and self-recognition and provides wearers with a sense of cultural identity and social cohesion. The weavers develop an occupational identity and take great pride in their heritage; they enjoy social recognition and are highly respected for their skills.
Weavers – together with spinners, dyers, loom-dressers and practitioners of a number of other supporting crafts – form a closely knit community with a strong sense of unity, identity and continuity. The preparation time for weaving is roughly a week to 10 days from buying the thread, dyeing it in case we want to weave coloured stoles , starching the cotton, spinning, reeling, setting up of the loom and then start of the weaving process. Once the loom is set up, one stole can take approximately 3-4 days to complete, depending upon design intricacy.
ArtEastri works on the design and colour palette with 3 master weavers in Fulia – Santipur , along with the weavers working under them to bring to the world some exclusive handwoven stoles in Cotton and Silk -cotton fabric. ArtEastri is also experimenting with Shibori dye after weaving plain stoles on the loom.
Eri Silk - A Peace Silk
Not in a small measure though we are also working with one of the world’s most sustainable silk varieties -- Eri/ Ahimsa Silk and trying to infuse traditional Assamese motifs into these stoles. The weavers from Assam weave beautiful designs, which generally involve animals, human figures, flowers, birds and diamonds. The designs in Assam are symbolic of the different tribes and ethnic groups of the area.
A Typical Day
A typical day at ArtEastri begins by first checking in almost daily- the progress of work for the different categories of stoles which are currently under production with our partner Artisans. Also sitting with new designs and colours to chalk out the next production orders. Managing all our sales channels - physical and online - is also a very important task which needs to be monitored on a daily basis.
Working remotely (ArtEastri is Bangalore based while our artisans are all in interior Bengal and Assam) with our artisans has not proved to be too arduous so far thanks to new age technology. All our craft partners make it a worthwhile experience!
ArtEastri has a dream: To become a household name in premium quality handcrafted stoles from Eastern India in the next 2-3 years. Our unique designs and craft combinations set us apart from anyone in the Industry. Explore them today on Coopita.