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Kutir is taking the Indian Fashion industry to new levels but not at the expense of ethnicity and culture. At the heart of this designer clothing label is the Indian craftsman.

What began for Mamta Kheror as a thesis project on Kanjeeveram fabric is now hitting the fashion world as Kutir, the epitome of elegance and ethnicity in Indian wear for women. Surprisingly, for all the domestic and international attention Kutir has received, including markets in Vancouver, London, New York and the Middle East, little is known about its creator, Mamta, and the social message she is quietly working towards through her designer label. Kutir was established in 1985 with the idea that designer wear should be accessible to every Indian woman underlying this philosophy is Mamta’s own love for all things Indian and a very real desire to keep the age-old culture and tradition alive by supporting the authentic craftsmanship of local artisans.

Most women recognize Kutir for its fresh style, unique embroidery, affordable prices, and of course, utterly Indian origin. The idea of Kutir had its beginnings in a small town in Kanchipuram in the south of India, where Mamta was studying, and first became fascinated with the kanchi cotton fabric. She was convinced that the fabric, traditionally used for sarees, would also make great salwar kameezes. Realizing that Indians are a cotton wearing people, Mamta began by creating a market with the working women in the city whom she feels are “looking for style, comfort and affordability all in one”.

What many of its weavers do not know is this: Kutir literally means “home”, and a welcoming home it has been for many unemployed women in the lower strata of society who find lower strata of society who find both a guide and mentor in Mamta.

On meeting Mamta at her tiny boutique in South Delhi, I felt immediately comforted by her warm presence and sincerity. Her passion for creation is evident in both the style of the clothes and the character that surrounds the place. As we talked, my picture of Kutir gradually became more clear as our conversation shifted from clothing and styles to the essence of Kutir supporting the Indian craftsmen. Readily acknowledging the superior skill of the workmen, Mamta advises, “to teach the craftsmen design is totally incorrect. They come with centuries of tradition, they teach us.” But what she has found missing, in craftsmen, weavers, printers and dyers is “they don’t have the market savvy and exposure to know what little changes are required to make a product successful.” In that aspect Kutir serves as a way for the local craftsmen to reach the masses.

During the years in textile school, Mamta came into contact with Kanjeeveram and was instantly enamoured by the fabric and the weavings and patterns that resembled temple carvings. Coming from a family of garment exporters who had been in the business since 1908, Mamta, who had also traveled extensively around India, was eager to bring global exposure to the local craftsmen, while at the same time catering to the needs of fashion.

Kutir’s most popular clientele is the Indian working woman who, although most comfortable in the traditional salwar kameez, is still keen on experimenting with style, fabric and design. The Saha (meaning “fairy”) collection, from this past summer, with its mixtures of white translucents and opaques, gives the clothes a soft, magical and mystical feel, a perfect way to forget about the Indian heat. For the winter collection, Kutir is experimenting with prints, using natural vegetable dyes. European colours that are subdued, like dull rose pink, sage green, and mauve grey, will also be used but the style, design fabric and concept behind the clothes remain wholly and completely Indian.

Kutir clothes display intricate embroidery, rich colours and graceful styles that are inviting for all occasions. The wide range, starting from moderately priced casual separates all the way to formal wedding wear, caters to every woman’s taste. Most importantly, the clothes are not overwhelming. Rather, they compliment a woman’s personality and give her confidence. Mamta feels, “the excitement of Kutir is not in the first high of buying the clothes, but in the actual wearing of the suits, not just the first time, but every time.”

As for following fads and trends, Mamta has this to say, “Fashion is what you make it. I care what is happening in the fashion world, but it doesn’t rule me.” With that, Mamta wants her customer to feel proud of whatever choice they have made, not because of fashion trends, but because the clothes make them feel special.

More than fashion, Kutir has an open message to give to the people: “We employ every woman who comes to us for a job. We train them, teach them, pay the, and find out what they are good at. We spread the message of employment in the lower income strata, through our own workers, ads and social organizations.” In that way, Kutir is a combined effort with the local craftsmen to create fashion, teach good design, and improve the livelihood of the local craftsmen as well as give them a sense of self-respect.

At present, Kutir employs 100 women and men. “We are trying to encourage the men who are working for us to allow their wives to work, but that is a major taboo. Even though these families need the double income, society does not change so easily. It is not easy to employ women, because we have to change the husbands’ attitudes towards their wives.

Kutir is also attempting something revolutionary in the work place. In most companies today, no interaction exists between workers and employee in terms of personal issues like family life, children and finance. Kutir, on the other hand, is trying to pen the lines of communication and encourage an environment that allows workers to speak to mangers about personal issues, creating a better work and home atmosphere.

With part of the proceeds of Kutir, Mamta also hopes to start a fund for educating the workers’ children for free. She aims to launch the programme by the end of this year.

Currently, Kutir workers are primarily embroiders, not weavers. However Kutir has already set up one weaving centre in Madras where they manufacture their own fabric and hire weavers who were previously jobless. Kutir is also taking steps toward opening franchise shops all over India and overseas. Mamta however will not feel as though she has accomplished something substantial until she has employed at least 500 men and women. With her market senses and love for what she does, it won’t be long before she has accomplished her feat.