Going the whole nine yards
Bengaluru-based designers Smithaa and Minu work with Koligan's weavers to design bold, contemporary sarees
No outfit in the fashion scene has undergone as much transformation as the saree — Bollywood and fashion designers have brought in unimaginable cuts and jazz to the garment, and the average woman on the street in India can drape it in no less than 108 ways, if she prefers.
But, when Bengaluru-based Smithaa H and Minu Paul started Pencildots(.com), a brand under which they sell silk-cotton sarees, in May 2010, they decided to keep it minimalistic. Browse through their collection on their website, pencildots.com or at tadpolestore(.com), and you’ll see sarees in warm, bright or earthy colours — all plain — with bold motifs on pallus. The duo works directly with seven weavers from Koligan near Mysore.
Smithaa and Minu studied textile designing at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi and passed out in 2003. For the next two- and-a-half years, they worked with a Bengaluru-based company which designed handicrafts with artisans and weavers. “But it was a 9-5 job, where we were mainly executing and coordinating rather than designing products. It was our subsequent association with the Development Commissioner (Handicrafts), which brought us closer to weavers and artisans,” says Smithaa. After a year of research and production of handwoven sarees, the duo held their first exhibition under their brand, Pencildots, in May 2010.
While the duo was starting out, they met weavers in Koligan who work with such intricate plates for motifs that they stuck to one design for at least a year. “It takes 10 days to change the plates and get accustomed to the new motifs. But they picked up our ideas quite well. They understand that contemporising the saree works a tad differently than working on a traditional Benarasi saree,” says Smithaa.
The duo’s sarees are available in stores all across India and online, and cost between Rs 4,000-8,000. The duo also exhibits extensively with the Crafts Council of India. “We now plan to get into stoles and dupattas, too. It will be a challenge for the weavers who’ve never done it, but I am sure they’ll give us something just as warm as their sarees,” smiles Smithaa.