Visiting Banaras: A photo-interview


On a recent trip to Banaras, we visited SND & Co., a heritage textile design atelier, with a century-old legacy of working closely with local textile artisans. Deepak Shah, co-founder of SND and third-generation entrepreneur, walked us through the atelier, sharing his vision of re-inventing and contemporizing textiles from Banaras.

Traditional meets contemporary

Since they feel very strongly about the traditional ways of weaving (employing methods such as the taraash, or the taara), SND pays minute attention towards ensuring that the authentic language of this craft is honoured in every way.

The folks at this heritage atelier feel that they are indeed moving in the right direction -- towards beautifully contemporizing the art and craft of the Banarasi – because they choose to work with the most luxurious yarns and motifs, and employ engineered patterns and placements that are more apt for the discerning audience of today. As Mr. Shah puts it, “We are looking at new techniques to suit contemporary wearers -- and thereby creating new forms, patterns and uses.”

Right through multiple invasions (of the Romans, the Mughals, and then the ups and downs of British rule), the Indian textile industry has always shown unparalleled workmanship and artistry, and generated the highest level of interest and perception of value. Whether it be the durries or the purdahs, the saris, or shawls, or just any fabric for upholstery, Indian textiles have found a strong footing across the world, and continue to be valued as sheer luxury and representative of the rich diversity of Indian culture. A deep-seated awareness of this heritage permeates every layer of SND’s work.

A Global Vision

“India, being the most culturally diverse country, offers unparalleled scope for all forms of craft to co-exist without having to cannibalise,” says Shah. Having said that, he feels that the design language of India today exists at various levels, and is aspirational. People are all for taste and aesthetics and not just for value; the consumers are aware of not just the product, but the process as well. This has opened up space for a rich cross-pollination of ideas towards building a much stronger design pool. “From just utility-driven to aesthetics-centric, we are now at the crux of simultaneously working on both,” he adds .

SND felt a deep need for this intervention and innovation after witnessing the younger generation of weavers moving away from the craft because their future here did not seem bright enough to be pursued. There were other temptations as well, like the fast-paced urban lifestyle, the need to make a quick buck, and fame. The challenge was to educate them about the treasure they already had, and SND has been trying to build awareness and connection by constantly keeping in touch with the community and the families of the weavers, and mentoring the next generation. Over the years, the effort has paid off, and there have been successful collaborations of the highly skilled artisans with experts from NID and NIFT. Many of the artisans now understand the complete design process -- the inspiration, theme selection (like choosing to work on “pichhwai” or “pacchikari”) and the life-cycle of the product -- and have started to find true value and potential in the rare craft that’s their legacy. Through all this, SND has been able to positively impact the craft ecosystem and succeeded in making the entire process quite organic and secular.

The organization wants to reach a discerning audience who connect emotionally with the art, its creators and the cluster at large, are able to differentiate art and culture from fashion, and value the dedicated time that craft and the handmade need. However, realistically speaking, they believe in educating before expecting appreciation. Towards this end, they are working to create a space of conscious engagement, of going beyond the product to exchange ideas, generate awareness and build an invested community (around the right people and with the right purpose).

The atelier has a holistic approach towards the entire design process, and works very consciously to marry various techniques across crafts, that includes (but is not limited to) a great mix of weaving, prints and embroidery, thus creating a very interesting space for everything to beautifully co-exist.