Saturday, Oct 21, 2017 | Last Update : 04:05 PM IST
Textile designer Smitha Murthy’s experiences with weavers in Northeast taught her the art of finding luxury in simplicity.
In 2002, as a final year student at Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Smitha Murthy visited Assam for a project on Bodo weavers. There, she was introduced to a livelihood programme started by ANT (The Action North East Trust) and she got involved in it. Soon, learning more about the artisans and their struggles, Smitha could sense how her project was connecting her to the larger socio-economic aspects of the place. She then started working on bolstering the livelihood programme for female weavers, while simultaneously promoting the Bodo tribes’ art and culture. The textile designs she created during the project were well-appreciated. The project became a weaver organisation titled Aagor (working under the aegis of ANTS, a lifestyle brand). Demand for its products rose with time and eventually saw the Bengaluru girl making Assam her second home.
Today, apart from Aagor, Smitha works with other organisations to develop their designs and export their products to the outside world. “We have a small team of designers. We engage with students as well. We then travel to crafts villages and create products which are then marketed at stores. We don’t keep any exclusivity rights on the designs so that artisans can use our designs to sell their products to another party. However, because we are the market link for the weavers, we take full responsibility for the quality of designs,” she says and adds that because of language and culture barriers, she struggled initially to win the trust of the tribals. “But we knew the common language of colours, designs and textiles. To think of it now, it was such an exciting phase,” she says.
While there is an Ants store in Bengaluru, another portal is in the pipeline to make products available in other cities. Their products include a wide range of ethnic and contemporary outfits, jewellery, bags, baskets, kitchenware, home decor and furnishings.
Though her research and development team keeps a tab on the kind of designs that are in, she believes it is not their role to bombard artisans with designs. “We understand their challenges and provide solutions. There are floods and ongoing ethnic violence. So, we often miss deadlines. I feel our USP lies in bringing out best products possible from Northeast to the mainland. We use traditional art and craft to create daily use items for modern India,” says the 37-year-old.
Smitha feels inspired by the people she works with. “My travels to Northeast have matured me a lot. It has changed my outlook towards life. I have had experiences of finding luxury in simplest of things because of this job,” she says and adds, “The honeymoon period of the store is over now and we have a huge responsibility of sustaining livelihoods.”