Kolkata- based fashion designer Sanjukta makes stylish outfits out of gamcha
The word gamcha has become synonymous with Bibi Russell, the Bangladeshi designer who brought worldwide fame to the indigenous towel woven back home. It wasn’t just a matter of business, but her inspiration lay in uplifting the lives of the native weavers, by bringing the fabric woven by them back into mainstream fashion. In fact, the designer has made the garment a part of her personal style statement, which includes a gamcha worn as a scarf or a headband/turban that she is often seen sporting.
In Kolkata too, the gamcha seems to be making a lot of noise — with King Khan himself wearing one for the promotion of his flick, Zero. Does that mean, the coarse fabric, hitherto considered unfashionable, is gaining new ground in India? Perhaps, yes! Gamchas have caught the fancy of almost every other designer in India and finding a shirt, jacket, sari or dress made of gamcha material is not new anymore.
But there are a few designers who have lent the gamcha a fluid identity, and an urban feel. Meet Sanjukta Roy, of the label Sanjukta, which started out in 2012 from Kolkata and has made a name for itself , as a manufacturer of unique one-of-a-kind clothes. Their speciality? They don’t repeat their designs and patterns — and they are gender fluid. “Clothing should be something that should adapt not only to your body in terms of shape or comfort, but also in terms of what situation your body is in. I should be able to make a scarf out of a jacket, a skirt out of a dress, or pants out of a skirt. I try to figure out multiple things in one garment,” says the 41-year-old textile designer.
For the sci-fi fan, the gamcha story unfolded when nothing else seemed to be working out for her. Exasperated, she utilised the last of her savings and the gamchas she had collected on her various trips to remote villages in Midnapore, Bankura, Kolkata and Assam and took them to a skilled but sceptical master ji. The 10 garments that he created were the first set of clothes by the label Sanjukta.
Today, her gamcha saris are sold out at the few online retailing websites she works with, and at People Tree stores in Delhi and Goa, who feature them among their rare apparel collection. But her journey hasn’t been very smooth. “The weavers don’t work under me, and I can’t influence which colour or pattern they should work with. Most of them produce it for the haat (local marketplace) and if their gamchas don’t sell, they might even stop producing it altogether, to pursue something more profitable,” she adds.
The latest addition to her series is a petticoat or chau kata shaaya, which can be either worn as a skirt or with a sari for an unusual look. There are some unique patchwork kurtas too, like the one worn by actor Swastika Mukherjee, which is made with tundu, a blue gamcha from Tamil Nadu, teamed up with gamosa of Assam, khadi pieces and bits of lungi. There is a jumpsuit that becomes a dress and a sari that can also be worn as a skirt, or as dhotis by men.
Smock tops made with a single gamcha can be worn both ways and a lungi or red and white khasi fabric can easily make for a tunic. The saris are made by joining lungis and gamchas, whereas the hand-embroidered pallu has pom-poms. She also creates upcycled jewellery out of scraps left after making the clothes.
Sanjukta, the label, has earned considerable fame not just in Kolkata, but also in international circles. Swiss designer Gerold Brenner wore one of her saris as a skirt to the summer edition of the Amsterdam fashion trade fair in July last year. The softspoken couturier smiled when we asked her what’s next and said, “I don’t believe in too much planning, as it doesn’t always work out that way.” As of now, Aikido is taking up most of the designer’s time, who is in the fifth year of her training, and she’s not complaining either. “It subtracts a lot of negativity, and I’m enjoying the journey,” she says.
Starting price for dresses Rs 1,050; for saris Rs 6,050.