Text by Sholeen Damarwala
When Bibhu Mohapatra started incorporating traditional Odisha weaves into his collections nearly seven years ago, his original goal was to introduce the rich ikat textiles of his home state to audiences in the West.
“My focus was always to use local techniques and then challenge artisans with creating new shapes, and mixing them with modern elements, interesting colour combinations and blending fabrics like silk with cotton to design something that is modern and relatable to today’s audience,” he says. Mohapatra’s instinct was on the mark: in recent years using traditional Indian weaves has become a part of the design narrative for most major Indian fashion houses. Backed by government initiatives, many designers now work directly with artisans and weavers using traditional techniques to create new and exciting patterns and subsequently reviving India’s cottage industries that were once losing out to machine milled, affordable textiles.
Today, Mohapatra is one of the many designers leading the movement, although he is one of the few who is uniquely positioned to give these fabrics a global platform. Based in New York, Mohapatra’s namesake label has been a regular fixture on the New York Fashion Week circuit since 2009 and has been championed by the likes of Michelle Obama and Lupita Nyongo’o. Using his global influence to boost Odisha’s textile industry, Mohapatra has teamed up with the Government of Odisha to support the second Make in Odisha Conclave that showcases the local talent and industries from the state. Ahead of his talk and curated fashion show at the event, Mohapatra spoke about what defines luxury fashion, why he thinks Indian textiles have a global market and how he views his role in reviving local industries.
How did you get involved in the Make in Odisha Conclave?
The purpose of this five-day event is to propel Odisha as an investment destination in all different fields. Being from Odisha, I see huge potential for creative economies. I will be hosting a talk where I will discuss the potential of Odisha, how I see fashion as a global business and where its headed in the next 10 years. After the conversation, I will have a curated fashion show of my work.
What will you be showcasing at the Conclave?
You’re going to see pieces from my most current collection interwoven with some of the textiles from Odisha that I have worked on as part of the Handloom Revival Project. We are going to be creating different looks utilizing those materials in sort of a spontaneous way that will be the representations of my work with the Odisha handloom weaves as well as my namesake brand.
What kind of significance do Odisha textiles hold for you as a designer?
Growing up in Odisha I have seen my mother and women in my family draped in these textiles and even the bed linens were made out of these handwoven textiles. I grew up in a modest family but we knew we had luxury at our fingertips because of these artisans and crafts, and it has shaped my creative mind growing up. All those beautiful patterns made out of ikat and dhoop chao textiles that were interwoven in two different colors has influenced me a great deal and continues to do so.
Besides using the weaves as part of your collection, how else do you plan to raise awareness around Odisha textiles?
I am potentially working on a second round of collection with the weaving communities that’s going to be unveiled next year. I plan to host those textile samples with help of some major fabric representatives in New York where both international and domestic designers can come and see the mills and understand the intricate process that goes into making these textiles. Hopefully, they fall in love with them. That’s a way to expose and introduce this craft on a global platform.
In your opinion, what is the sustainable technique to keep these cottage industries and local artisan clusters thriving?
There’s a myth surrounding tradition textiles that they are precious and hard to use. Through my own work I am constantly trying to showcase just how versatile and sustainable luxurious they are. It’s sort of presenting these materials in a very young and innovative vocabulary so it highlights the tradition but at the same time breaking some of the norms and rules so they can transcend geography and appeal to any consumer or designer from around the world.
The Make in Odisha Conclave is hosted in Bhubaneshwar from 11th– 15thNovember, 2018. Click here for details