Designer Sunita Shanker’s latest Kantha and Bandhani edit for Chennai redefines sustainable fashion

Transitioning from careful upcycling to artistic hand-dyeing, Sunita Shanker's sustainable luxury garments narrate the stories of skilled Bengal artisans.

BySF Features Desk

Published Nov 20, 2023 | 9:00 AM Updated Nov 20, 2023 | 9:00 AM

The materials underwent a hand-dyeing process, adopting rich hues of plum, blue, midnight green, and black. (Supplied)

If you were to look at the creations of designer Sunita Shanker, her two-decade-long association with rich Indian crafts and artisans will shine through.

This, combined with her love for design, is a recipe for eclectic designs that showcase regional skills and artistry in every stitch.

This year, she introduces two distinct collections, Tangible Memories: Kantha and Quintessential Bandhani: Flowing Rhythm. Fashion enthusiasts in Chennai can explore the exquisite collection at The Folly, Amethyst in Chennai, later this month.

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Embracing tradition

In Kantha: Tangible Memories, Sunita retraces the traditional art of Kantha, upcycling old textiles into wearable art.

Collaborating with skilled artisans in rural West Bengal, the collection breathes new life into old sarees, creating a fusion of tradition and contemporary style.

Sunita shares, “A cohesive team of karigars painstakingly worked in harmony, transforming a piece of textile into wearable art.”

“I had been collecting old sarees for over five years and worked with this group of individual artisans for two years to eventually create these pieces. It has been a long process of understanding the skill sets of each artisan, and numerous samplings, till we found our rhythm to collaborate,” she explains.

Meticulous sorting and thorough cleaning marked the initial stages, bidding farewell to vermillion and turmeric stains that lingered from the fabrics’ past lives. Later, the materials underwent a hand-dyeing process, adopting rich hues of plum, blue, midnight green, and black.

The fabrics, now reimagined, take on new forms as classic wear – jackets and dresses.

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An endearing engagement

Meanwhile, in Bandhani: Flowing Rhythm, Sunita continues her engagement with the craft, infusing it into contemporary wear.

“It is one of the crafts that gave me the freedom to explore the technique to work on designs or patterns. From the inception of working with this craft, I have tried incorporating bandhani in contemporary wear by creating single motifs or patterns. It has been an ongoing engagement with the craft creating synergy in innovation and the traditional practice,” she elaborates.

The collection comprises jackets, dresses, tunics, cropped tops, shirts, skirts, trousers, camisoles, and overlays.

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Evolving luxury

Sustainability takes centre stage in both collections, aligning with Sunita’s ideology. 

However, compared to the previous year, Sunita Shanker’s upcycled pieces have evolved towards luxury. Despite the challenges and time investment required, she emphasises the satisfaction derived from creating pieces with resilience, patience, adaptability, and humility.

“The value chain involved in making each garment is extensive. It could take three months or more to create a single garment. Utmost care is taken while creating them,” she shares.

Witnessing a shift

In a world increasingly aware of the environmental impact of fast fashion, Sunita addresses the shift towards sustainability in the industry. Drawing from Indian cultural practices of upcycling and sustainability, she highlights the unique value of upcycled garments.

“People have been paying for expensive brands that are not sustainable and also not unique. Upcycled garments are unique not only in aesthetics but also in the manner of production where multiple skilful hands work to create a single piece,” she notes. “It is sheer luxury and timeless, never going out of fashion.”

When asked about her personal favourite upcycled piece, Sunita modestly expresses admiration for all the pieces. However, she singles out a “long jacket with embroidered triangles” as particularly stunning.

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Heartwarming tales

Reflecting on her travels to Bengal during the collection’s creation, Sunita shares heartwarming anecdotes of the artisans’ generosity, their willingness to go the extra mile, and the simple pleasures of being offered delicious Bengali sweets during visits to their huts.

“This summer, on one of my visits, it was unbelievably hot in Bengal. I wanted to visit the local market in a nearby town and I didn’t know my way. One of the artisans came from her village which is about 60 kilometres away, to take me to the market,” she reminisces.

“While driving to the various villages, it is almost like entering into oblivion. Losing my way at times, only to finally succeed in locating the huts, has become a way of life. The relaxed pace of life, simplicity, and art draws me to these villages,” she adds.

The collection will be showcased at Amethyst from 22 November to 24 November. Price: ₹4,950 onwards. Time: From 11 am to 7.30 pm. Contact: +91 7338899176/+91 8056018886

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