For Anita Dongre, fashion has always been in her blood. But as one of India’s most powerful and influential designers, she has now set her sights on creating sustainability within her country’s artisan textile communities, by means of her new woman’s label, Grassroot. Her latest collection marries her signature contemporary design aesthetic with the various forms of centuries-old heirloom traditions that have been passed down through the generations.
We caught up for a chat with the fashion visionary at the recent opening of her first U.S. boutique, in NYC’s Soho.
What is the philosophy behind Grassroot?
Grassroot is very special to me. The idea behind the brand was to help to sustain traditional crafts from India – I wanted to work with the artisans from each of India’s different regions, all of which have their own indigenous specialty craft. One of my goals was to ensure sustained employment in those areas – and then to take these traditional crafts and to make them into contemporary clothing that today’s young woman can wear and enjoy. That’s what I love about Grassroot. I want our customer to come in and realize how special every piece is. Every garment has a story to tell, it is a special skill which has been perfected and passed down from father to son, mother to daughter, for generations.
So you work with artisans from all over India?
Yes, we’re working with various communities, and each one has a different method of weaving or embroidering which is intrinsic to that community. We develop an understanding of the skill so we can create wearable, modern fashion with artisan craftsmanship. Our weavers and artisans are highly skilled, which is what makes all of our pieces so special.
How often do you travel to the different communities?
When I begin working with a new community I often go to meet with them, and then my team will continually follow up. We partner with several NGOs, some of which have a global presence. They have the skills, systems and manpower to get our materials to the artisans we work with. But they need design intervention and the introduction to a marketplace – this is where I can contribute.
What are some of the standout pieces?
I think my favorites are the pieces that are done by the women of SEWA: the Self Employed Women’s Association. Many pieces in the current collection were crafted by hand by these women. They have also done couture pieces for me, and their embroidery is amazing.
How do you see yourself influencing the next generation of Indian fashion designers?
I am on the board of Lakme Fashion Week, and for a couple of years I did mentor the younger designers. It’s very rewarding and I will continue to do it.
Do you feel that there is a lot more potential in the Western fashion world for Indian design?
With people shopping across the world, fashion aesthetics are unifying globally. As an Indian designer, I have a different voice and access to a different textile tradition that I can bring to the Western fashion world, within silhouettes that have a universal appeal.
What can we expect for fall?
More classic evening wear.
What are your plans for further expansion in the US?
In addition to Grassroot, I’m planning on opening a bridal couture store in Soho this fall. It will carry traditional Indian evening wear and, as with Grassroot, everything will be handcrafted.