Fashion

A Garden in Three Words

We named our store after the traditional kantha embroidery of Bengal. A folk art that has evolved in the hands of women over centuries…

Story and Photos by Maria Jain - maria@kantha.fi

The Kantha store brings together India and Finland, our two homes, to celebrate the meeting of craft tradition with contemporary design, and the stories behind hand-crafted creations. Photo ©Helly Ahlqvist

It was in New York that we began to feel a yen for starting something new. Work had brought us to the city: I worked at the UN and Mayank as a website consultant. After three enriching years, we decided to return to Helsinki.

As the World Design Capital of 2012, Helsinki throbbed with interesting new energy. The rhythm and style of life here also allowed us to begin to pursue that new thing.

Six months after our return we opened Kantha, a web store that offers clothes, accessories, and home decor. Kantha is best described by three key words: purpose, design, and joy.

Vashanti, Torulata, and Karuna, fair trade craftswomen from West Bengal, told us that they were proud to see their creations traveling out to the world. Meeting some of the artisans whose imprint our collection bears, and learning from them about their work and their lives made a strong connection to our heart. Photo ©Maria Jain

Purpose

Two pieces of wisdom have particularly resonated with us as we have been building Kantha.

The first one is a Native American proverb: “Certain things catch your eye, but pursue only those that capture your heart”. This summer, we experienced the essence of this wisdom as we traveled to India to select the first products for our collection.

Our first destination was Kolkata, home to one of India’s oldest fair trade organization, Sasha. I had first been in contact with Sasha twelve years ago, while studying fair trade in India. We were thrilled to revive this connection by starting to work together.

Each piece of block printed fabric carries the imprint of the printer and is a piece of art - a fast disappearing one. Photo ©Maria Jain

For over five thousand people – local entrepreneurs, craftspeople, women using their homemaking skills to add to their livelihood – Sasha is synonymous with fair income, wider opportunities, and ability to keep their craft alive. In a village outside Kolkata, we met with women who told us that their earnings enabled them to educate their children and to put aside savings for the future. In another village, we visited a factory where men produced hand-printed fabrics using wooden print blocks. Amidst the thuds of the blocks, they told us that this work secures them steady income, so that even outside the farming season they do not have to look for work outside the village. We were also introduced to the on-site water treatment system that purified the colored water for use on farms.

We are now working on Kantha’s own fair trade collection. What’s in store? For example: women’s and children’s wear made with recycled saris and hand-printed organic cotton, plus colorful tribal jewelry.

Mayank tries his hand at block printing under the guidance of a master artisan Mohammad Iqbal at Anokhi. The technique originated some four thousand years ago in the Indus valley. According to Iqbal, the craft involves a life-long learning process. Photo ©Maria Jain

Design

We named our store after the traditional kantha embroidery of Bengal. A folk art that has evolved in the hands of women over centuries, it embodies creative expression and sustainability. By embroidering together discarded saris and other garments, women have created beautiful textiles for new use – quilts, for example. One such quilt could bring together generations, as the grandmother, mother, and daughter stitched their motifs onto it, often depicting stories of their family and village.

In the same spirit, the Kantha store celebrates the blending of India’s rich craft tradition with design that attracts the contemporary eye.

A beautiful example of this are the clothes and accessories that we have selected from Anokhi in Jaipur. For over forty years, the company has championed the revival of Rajasthan’s textile traditions – especially hand block printing – while committing itself to ethical and environment friendly business practices.

Known world-wide for its gorgeous prints and designs, the family-run Anokhi employs a thousand craftspeople from Rajasthan to Gujarat. Staying true to the hand-made, Anokhi’s collections are limited, not mass-produced, and the prints in its collections are virtually never repeated.

 

Joy

Building Kantha has been a great journey – at times exhausting as well. We both work elsewhere during the day. Our friend encouraged us to start Kantha by quoting Nelson Mandela: “Everyone should have a garden to tend to”. Kantha became that garden for us. Nurturing it has involved everything from designing the visual identity to building the web store, from content writing to product photography.

Much of this would have been much more difficult and slow if it wasn’t for our friends who run a creative agency. They have been the wind under Kantha’s wings in many ways, from providing us a space in their office to helping us set up the studio for our photo shoots.

Anokhi is based in Jaipur, the capital of India’s desert state Rajasthan, known for its palaces and forts, and for its appreciation of arts and crafts. Anokhi nurtures this legacy. We brought Anokhi’s hand-printed bags from a historic Jaipur palace to a charming old hay barn in the Finnish countryside. They look equally gorgeous in both settings! Photo ©Maria Jain

The second piece of wisdom that has inspired us on this journey is from a spiritual teacher, Jaggi Vasudev: “Trade should serve humanity, not lead humanity”. Indeed, trade is not merely about buying and selling. It is an encounter where we share and exchange something valuable.

It is the joy in this sharing and exchange that lends our store its third key word.

You can find Kantha at www.kantha.fi (international shipping available!) and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kantha.fi.

 

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