Koskii was joined by a team of fashion students from Massey University (http://www.massey.ac.nz/) New Zealand, who specialize in design and textiles. We took them on a tour of our Karigari studio and, to put it mildly, the experience left them spellbound.
The session began with the students learning that it takes 256 person hours to make 1 lehenga. The sheer manual handcrafting and workmanship required, and attention to detail that goes into each piece was a real eye opener for them. The students watched as an Artisan was working on a single gold flower on the lehenga with his full focus and were mesmerized by his skill and precision, learning just how much goes into each little element of the design.
“What would be the price of one of these lehengas?” asked an enthusiastic student, “and what do you mean by a customized design exactly?”
Koskii’s CEO, Umar Akhter happened to be at the Karigari studio that day and was on hand to answer their questions, much to the delight of the students.
“Well one of these lehengas you see being made here would be anything between 60 to 100 thousand rupees. And to answer your question about what a customized design is, we are especially proud of being able to offer that service for two reasons. The first is a direct benefit to our customers.” he says.
Umar goes on to explain that women love to have one-of- a-kind pieces that no one else in the world has. They want something that is uniquely their own, and that nobody else has a claim on their personalized, individualistic design. The students from Massey University were especially surprised to hear the inspiration behind a lot of these women’s designs. “Pinterest.” says Umar with a smile. You can hear the students “ooh” and “aah” out of curiosity. “Pinterest is a source from where our brides and other customers pick and choose different patterns, designs, borders and embroidery from various places and ask us to artfully craft it together into one unique, custom-made design.” continues Umar, “We have catered to many movie stars, cricketers’ wives and more, and they come to us because very few places in Bangalore offer a customized studio. It is not a service that is easily available. But at Koskii we provide the customisation service which sets us apart and helps us cater to very specific needs of our customers”
We learn that the main inspiration behind setting up these incredible studios is to be able to support this community of Artisans, many of whom have had their skills passed down through generations over generations.
The brand itself was started by Umar’s great grandfather in the 1900s and it is extremely important to his family that they play a large part in keeping this art alive. They support Artisans from all parts of India and give them fresh opportunities in what used be a dwindling trade. Thanks to initiatives such as this, what was almost referred to as a “dying art” gets a bit of hope. Umar had researched more about the artisans and their trade and learned that a lot of them were becoming rickshaw drivers, construction workers and taking up other types of odd jobs to be able to support themselves and their families. He wanted to experiment with setting up the studio in Bangalore to support the art form and at the same time build a business model around it. The workshop is only about 10 months old and began with 5 or 6 artisans. They now employ 12 to 15 artisans and more and more are flocking here. Umar hopes to scale the studio and employ as many as 500 artisans across India in the near future.
The eye opening statements gave all those in attendance an entirely new perspective on the trade and how it impacts people’s lives. Mr. Umar Akhter took this opportunity to ask some questions of his own to the students about their experience and how all this made them feel.
Amy was the first to respond, “In New Zealand we don’t get a chance to see what goes on behind the scenes much at the workshops, so this is fantastic and a real treat for us!” She continued that such trades is rare in New Zealand and that they don’t have such traditional handicrafts as we do in India. The sheer number of the varying types of handcrafting styles in India is amazing to see, and she was truly delighted to experience it.
Another student, Holly, had a similar perspective, saying “Coming from a fashion and textile background, seeing a workshop wasn't completely unexpected but the whole setup was different and amazing in comparison to anything we’ve seen before.” She added chirpily “It’s really cool to see this in person! You only see this on YouTube or photos but this is incredible!”
Annabelle was quite impressed and at the same time quite moved by the entire experience, “The beauty of the craft, how long it takes, how passionate and skilled these workers are… We have nothing like this back at home in New Zealand. It’s absolutely beautiful to see how hard they work to create these stunning pieces.”
To end the session, Umar asked the students how different they found Indian trends versus the fashions back home, to which he got an uproarious and almost unanimous response. The bright-eyed students said that there was definitely “Lots of gold!” According to them, the trends back home lean more towards neutral shades and even “a LOT of black!” piped up one of the students with a large smile on her face.
Though now New Zealand trends are beginning to lean more towards colour than they did in the past, they are not used to very ornate embroidery. Rather than opulent and showy designs, their current trend is more understated as “We try to blend in and not stand out. Everyone here loves to stand out and be bright and colourful which is wonderful!” said one student.
She continued “Our style has changed and evolved a lot since we’ve been here in India. We look at more textural prints and embroideries and we want to buy them but then we take a step back and think about the trends in NZ and wonder if we would wear it there. This evolution of ours here is also great because we get so immersed in Indian culture and trends while we're here and get excited for them! But then we wonder if it would fit in in New Zealand. New Zealand is extremely casual.”
As the girls get ready to leave, they line up to have their pictures taken with the work and the Artisans before they go. Umar asks them a parting question, “Have you learned things here or parts of it that you would like to use back home?” A loud and unanimous “YES!” resounds from the group as they excitedly take photos of all the patterns and designs they see.
Meanwhile, the Artisan is still working on that same flower that he started on before the girls came in. They take a final look and loads of pictures before ending their eventful day at the Koskii Karigari Studio.