Heritage embroidery: bringing the past to life to perpetuate the present

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of Manish Malhotra’s collaboration with the Mijwan Welfare Society which empowers women in the village of Mijwan by teaching them a special embroidery craft called Chikankari.

It was the most trending moment on the internet when Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone took to the ramp for Manish Malhotra’s latest show. Ranveer wore a white chikankari over a black ethnic suit while Deepika wore a heavily embroidered white lehenga with a trailing dupatta. Bollywood dressed up and showed up in full force, with many big names strolling down the ramp. But few people realize that this was not a regular show on the fashion calendar. This was the 10th anniversary celebration of Manish Malhotra’s collaboration with the Mijwan Welfare Society which empowers women in Mijwan village by teaching them a special embroidery craft called ‘Chikankari’. It is believed that this style of embroidery was introduced by Nur Jehan, the wife of Mughal Emperor Jahangir. It has a signature style of dots and knots in floral designs.

President Shabana Azmi with girls from the Mijwan Welfare Society and designer Manish Malhotra.

The company’s president, film legend Shabana Azmi, says, “Mijwan artisans create exquisite handcrafted chikankari that was brought to the doorstep of the film and fashion industry by Manish Malhotra. We have empowered women to earn a living and become active participants in the family structure. When they come for the fashion show, they get the rounds of applause with the models and movie stars wearing them. It is a life transforming experience.
Although some of this may sound like an old formula, if you look at the big picture, it is still a very important aspect in supporting the needs of struggling women in small towns and villages in Uttar Pradesh. I recently witnessed the work being done by ASRA (Aligarh Self Reliance Alliance) for women. It once again works on the dual purpose of maintaining demand for heritage crafts while providing a means of earning money for women. ASRA specializes in ‘Phool-Patti ka kaam’ (patchwork of flowers and leaves) in textiles. This delicate form of appliqué work originated in Aligarh and dates back again to the Mughal period. When ASRA started in 2019, the main objective was to rescue women from debt bondage and domestic work.
“With 20 days of debt bondage by intermediaries and no access to the market, these women could not sell their labor independently. Today, as part of ASRA, our women receive a start-up grant to create their own work and sell it directly to boutiques. In this way, not only are we training new hands, but we have also managed to eliminate touts from the market,” says Dr. Faiza Abbasi, founder of ASRA.
The newest kid on the block is the Vanvasi Project India which helps the villagers of Saidanpur. ‘Zardozi’ (gold thread embroidery), ‘Arhi’ and ‘Malmal’ were once their traditional textile work, but continued exploitation by touts has driven out a whole generation in search of outdoor work. Their hand looms have been abandoned for years at home. Today, the next generation of the patron family, Saif Habibullah has decided to relocate to the village of his ancestors to help revive the looms and bring back a sense of empowerment and ownership for men and women. here.
Although it is literally starting from scratch, the next step will be to provide them with market connectivity to GenZ. Who knows, there might be a Saidanpur Unlimited brand in the near future. Bringing the past to life to support the present to create a better future is the essence of the cultivation cycle.