Over two decades ago,Manju Jalota ventured into the fashion industry in Lucknow. Her purpose was to revive the traditional crafts of her home state Uttar Pradesh (UP). With wholesale markets saturated with chikan material,which could hardly be differentiated on design and style,she thought of giving the craft a twist. Jalota visited different states of India including Punjab,Orissa and Bengal and struck upon the idea of combining their crafts. She worked on various permutations of phulkari,kamdani,zardozi,kantha,ari and Parsi embroidery with authentic chikankari work in her designs.
I wanted to work with traditional crafts and yet offer my clients something the market didnt have. When I incorporated crafts from the states of Orissa,Madhya Pradesh and UP into one sari,it became almost impossible for anyone in the market to make duplicates of my designs. Even I have not replicated any of my designs, says Jalota,as she busily packs away for her stall at Women Entrepreneurs Exhibition,which will be held at The Westin
on October 4 and 5.
Over the years,Jalota has reached out to craftsmen in rural areas of UP and formed an NGO to help them earn and sustain their families. I have done away with the middlemen. I visit the craftsmen once a week and brief them about the new patterns I need. They are happy to learn new patterns and styles of embroidery. Even I can do a bit of embroidery,so I share my ideas by demonstrating it to them. But its me who learns more from them, says Jalota.
Her creativity extends to showcasing her contemporary chikankari designs on a range of fabrics. She swears by natural fabrics,which are handwoven,and wants to change the trend of chikankari being worn only during summers. My latest collection features chikankari work on fabrics such as jute and tussar silk,both of which are thick and heavy winter fabrics. Though I feel that chikankari looks best against a background of pastel shades on cotton or muslin,it has an interesting appeal on darker and denser fabrics, she says.
Unlike other designers,who base their collections on the two fashion seasons per year spring-summer and autumn-winter,Jalota has a different approach to her work. Since she makes her sales mainly by participating at various exhibitions held across India,she works on a new collection considering the trends of the location of the exhibition. While she showcases shimmery anarkalis for her exhibition in Punjab,she resorts to subtle and sophisticated saris for Pune. When I started off,I would only make salwar-kameez sets. At an exhibition at Ernakulam,a customer suggested that if I wanted to survive in that market,I must make saris. The advice made me foray into saris and now,they are my main focus, she says.