Fashion Talk
Seema Agrawal

Seema Agrawal

Artisan Saga

We revive traditional designs, handwoven and in pure fabric

Artisan Saga, founded by Kaushik Rajani and Seema Agrawal, is an online store for artisanal handlooms and handcrafted art. The brand handpicks the best from the finest hand and curates classic and traditional handloom sarees in pure fabric reflecting the diverse Indian weaves and styles. Fibre2Fashion spoke to co-founder Seema Agrawal to understand the company's journey and the ebbs and flows of the Indian handloom niche.

Fibre2Fashion : How and when did you start Artisan Saga? Why did you want to work with handlooms?

Seema Agrawal:

There was a wedding to attend in Mumbai in January 2016. The love for travel and Indian textile made us want to take up the road journey to Mumbai and we planned our route such that we pass through villages of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. That was the beginning of our sourcing through interaction with locals. After coming back with our car fully loaded, we did our first exhibition in Akshaya Pratishthan and started our Facebook page, followed soon by launching our own website. And the journey continued from there. There has been no looking back since then. Today we are collaborative partners with online portals like Parisera and Avishya. Kamla, a shop run by the Delhi Craft Council, also stores our sarees, besides some other leading hotels, which we cannot name. We continue to participate in reputed exhibitions with the Craft Council, Dastkar and Pause for a Cause.

Handloom is our heritage; the onus to preserve it and not to let it die is on all of us. It is a skill, an art that should not be allowed to perish. There are just so many different weaves, such complex techniques! If all this goes away, it would be a shame. what are we going to be proud of in the years to come? So it must be encouraged and if people who feel for it won't take the step, then who will? Handcrafted fabrics have so much more character and they have their own identity. You can feel it the moment you drape it on the body. There is no stiffness here. The difference is the same as between a painting and a print and you prefer the former once you have experienced it. Plus, the flexibility in design, the beauty and the complexity is noteworthy. When we began our road journey, we did not start with the intention of doing only handloom, but after seeing what goes into it, we could not think of anything else.

Fibre2Fashion : How many weavers do you work with? Do you work with artisans directly?

Seema Agrawal:

We do work with weavers directly. Our weavers come from villages in Benaras, Paithani in Maharashtra, Patola in Gujarat and Maheshwar in Madhya Pradesh. We work with 12-15 master craftsmen. The master craftsman is the head weaver who organises the work, coordinates the process and has many weavers working under him. It is a team work. There is the skilled technician who draws, the weaver who weaves, and so many other tasks that are performed by different people.

Fibre2Fashion : What is the percentage of women workers in the Indian arts and crafts community?

Seema Agrawal:

It is fifty-fifty, as the whole family is involved in weaving.

Fibre2Fashion : Which rare traditional weaves of India are you working to preserve? Can you brief us about some lesser known handloom forms?

Seema Agrawal:

Kadhwa weave and tanchoi jamawars from Benaras; paithanis with traditional borders in Lehar; asawali pallavs; brocade borders like muniya; lotus, parrot peacock cotton paithanis were something unknown that we discovered during our first travel in 2016. We spotted these with one weaver who had only two pieces. We immediately grabbed these and introduced them in Delhi through our exhibitions. No one had heard of these then, but these charmed everyone. So we encouraged our weaver to weave more such items and promised them regular orders. They were not willing at first because cotton is tougher to weave in as the yarn keeps breaking and it takes longer to weave. But as we started placing regular orders, they evinced interest. Now we see other weavers opting for cotton paithani as well and vendors sourcing these. But we do feel we had a hand in making people notice this.

Similarly, we discovered the cotton patola and cotton tissue patola in single ikat. Even today, you won't commonly find these.

Fibre2Fashion : How do artisans and weavers benefit from working with Artisan Saga?

Seema Agrawal:

They get regular work from us. It keeps their home economics in place. They feel encouraged to expand their work. One of our weavers has now added a special loom to weave cotton for us. Their children who were not interested to join family tradition of weaving are now very much involved with other aspects of weaving, contributing to grow and reach out, and eager to connect with us through Internet.

Fibre2Fashion : Which are the most widely sold handlooms at Artisan Saga?

Seema Agrawal:

Paithanis and single ikat Rajkot patolas are the most sold.

Fibre2Fashion : Tell us about the training process that the local weavers and artisans have to undergo to meet the demand of your customers.

Seema Agrawal:

It is family tradition; the skills are passed on from one generation to the other. Nobody attends a formal training school. They start learning from early years as the whole family is involved in the weaving process, taking turns to weave.

Fibre2Fashion : What new can be expected, be in terms of treatment, colours, design or finishing?

Seema Agrawal:

We are trying to revive old traditional designs in ikats and are working to bring saree designs on dupattas.

Fibre2Fashion : Is the competition in your line of business getting fiercer? How do you cope with that?

Seema Agrawal:

Competition is healthy if taken in the right spirit and it makes you grow and turn better. But we believe in being different and so our competitors cannot match us. 

Our USP is in the attempt to revive traditional designs, purely handwoven and in pure fabric. We travel to remote areas and source sarees directly from the weaver. We do not keep anything from sources we have never interacted with. We ensure we source the most genuine and authentic product. You will not find any power loom saree with us or any other mixed or impure fabrics. 

Moreover no two sarees are same because we neither buy in bulk nor source from a single weaver, but visit various weavers and pick from five or six different ones to curate something unique.

This way we offer variety to customers without being repetitive and boring and meet the demands of our corporate clients. Of course, it takes much more effort, but we enjoy travelling and love to interact with local weavers and their families.

Fibre2Fashion : Please tell us in detail about your latest collection.

Seema Agrawal:

During my school and college days, I used to paint and sketch a lot, but I did not pursue it. I love art work and my house is full of it. In my childhood, I used to go to Udaipur often and I was always fascinated with their miniature art, the intricate painstaking skill.  So I wanted that to be incorporated in sarees. Last year we launched the first series of The Inner Connect, a collection of hand-woven and hand-painted sarees by a miniature painting artist.  You will find many hand painted sarees but ours are a class apart. They are done by a miniature artist, so you can see the influence. They are quite intricately done. Moreover, I have also brought in a deeper aspect to these expressions as they are thematic, based on a higher aspiration. Some even have quotes from Indian literature scripted on them in consonant with the theme of the topic expressed.

The Inner Connect gives a new expression to the six-yard. Each saree is a unique canvas, depicting an aspect of life from the perspective of a deeper consciousness, and has been given its own name. For example, 'The Fortress' depicts the trap and the way to freedom that awaits only those who dare to become a warrior, fighting their desires and greed. The entire saree evokes an experience in the one wearing it and those viewing it.

Fibre2Fashion : What is the perception of young India towards handloom?

Seema Agrawal:

Indian youth is still not too aware of the difference between handloom and powerloom.  Although there is a movement where sarees are being promoted (through various saree groups online) and saree draping workshops are being held. We see many young girls buying sarees now and wearing them in different styles. But while purchasing, they cannot tell the difference. They tend to get drawn towards cheaper priced textile. Thankfully, awareness towards handloom is increasing due to promotions by us and many others on Instagram and Facebook, exhibitions like Dastkar, Crafts Council of Delhi and saree groups like Six Yards x 365 Days where only handloom wearing, handloom weavers are promoted.

Fibre2Fashion : What needs to be done to keep Indian handlooms more relevant?

Seema Agrawal:

First, to make the items cost effective, the yarn must be made easily available and less expensive. The goods and services tax on the handloom must be removed. More exhibitions should be encouraged and promotions done through special schemes and facilities. The weaving villages must be made easily accessible and their living conditions improved, basic infrastructure and cleanliness should be provided. In schools and colleges, visits to such villages may be organised and workshops arranged to make the youth aware.

Fibre2Fashion : What are the challenges that this niche faces?

Seema Agrawal:

The challenges are to convince the customer to differentiate between handloom and powerloom and to timely source the required number of handloom sarees.

Fibre2Fashion : What kinds of disruptions does this niche need?

Seema Agrawal:

Workshops, write-ups, exhibitions for more awareness and government schemes to generate funds are needed.

Fibre2Fashion : How supportive are government initiatives and schemes towards the Indian handloom community?

Seema Agrawal:

Handloom weavers tell us they hardly benefit. This is an unorganised sector of private individuals carrying on the trade and we do our best to support them. (HO)