Designer Malika Verma's chic label SHE Kantha takes Bengali traditional stitches to the world

Malika Varma, along with her mum Shamlu Dudeja, are leading the way in revolutionising kantha to be the go-to fashion choice for millennials, while also empowering local artisans and extending their
A Kantha embroidered skirt and crop top
A Kantha embroidered skirt and crop top

Kantha craft is intrinsically related to the Bengali culture of preservation and re-invention. This is exactly why Malika Varma’s SHE Kantha foundation resonates with our sense of sustainability and relevance. The designer, along with her mum, the acclaimed kantha revivalist Shamlu Dudeja, have been the most important figureheads driving the resurgence of kantha in contemporary and Indo-ethnic wear.

<em>A close-up of an elaborate kantha embroidered saree</em>
A close-up of an elaborate kantha embroidered saree

The SHE foundation, which is essentially an NGO, works towards the welfare of kantha artisans; the initiative actively employs over a 1,000 women from areas around Kolkata, Bolpur, Shantiniketan, Narendrapur, to showcase their homegrown stitches and work on an international platform. In fact, the label received so much love globally that SHE has successfully been launched in Paris by Dominique and Hubert Boukris, for the purpose of raising funds towards the welfare of the artisans. Shamlu and Malika have worked tirelessly for the last three decades to revive the heritage of kantha, and weave it into the mainstream narrative of wearable fashion. And SHE has a new lineup curated just in time for our spring shopping spree. 

<em>A split-hem kantha embroidered palazzo with a matching jacket</em>
A split-hem kantha embroidered palazzo with a matching jacket

“Our new line is geared to appeal to younger buyers. Millennials have been increasingly curious about kantha. Our line-up includes palazzos, jackets, tussar jumpsuits with kantha work, scarves, bags, dupattas and a number of other interesting kantha stitched numbers. We don’t want kantha to be an age-typical thing that only attracts the older generations. We want our work to appeal to younger enthusiasts who can revive kantha for their needs, and sustain the craft. Besides the contemporised collection, we have another line that prominently features local stitches, designs, motifs and colours from our villages, to offer a platform for homegrown creations. Another line of ours consists of my mother’s modernised kantha creations that are sold all over the world, and curated for global fashion tastes,” Malika tells us. 

<em>An elaborate peplum kantha top and embroidered skirt</em>
An elaborate peplum kantha top and embroidered skirt

The designer thinks the attitude towards kantha has witnessed a significant change, as the younger crowd gets more invested in heritage craft. SHE Kantha has a refreshing approach when it comes to hassle-free wearability, and one look at their stunning kantha palazzos or geometric tie-dye scarves will give you an idea about what we’re talking about. Malika has exhibited her work all over the world, from London to Santa Fe to New York.

<em>A colour block kantha embroidered jacket</em>
A colour block kantha embroidered jacket

Last year, SHE Foundation received The Community Impact Award from the International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Moreover, Harvard Business School interviewed Shamlu about her concepts involving a revival of kantha, and the marketing techniques involved. In 2012, when Hillary Clinton visited Kolkata, she visited the SHE stall at a city exhibit and was hugely impressed with their initiatives for empowering artisans. In fact, Clinton even purchased a kantha portrait of Rabindranath Tagore, which she eventually gifted to the Mamata Banerjee. 

<em>A black kantha scarf with multi-coloured embroidery</em>
A black kantha scarf with multi-coloured embroidery

“Our scarves and dupattas are something that are really popular, in the country and globally as well. They are so versatile and can seamlessly fit into any ensemble. We are also doing a lot of stitch art pieces, which means we create wall pieces out of kantha. And we feature some ethnic motifs, and our artisans get a lot of creative freedom with those numbers. Which is why we have separate lines; as we also let our artisans explore their expertise,” Malika adds. 

SHE Kantha’s handbags start from Rs 1,200, and kantha embroidered scarves start from Rs 3,500. To browse their latest collection, drop by at their 4/1, Alipore Park Road store.

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