S24 Parganas in Bengaluru employs embroiderers from Bengal

Bengaluru-based S24 Parganas employs Aari and Zardozi hand embroiderers from the West Bengal district of the same name to craft remarkable tops, dresses and jackets

S24 Parganas, based in Bengaluru, employs aari and the zardozi embroiderers from the West Bengal district of the same name to make remarkable tops, dresses and jackets

During the first Covid-induced lockdown of 2020, Bengaluru-based entrepreneur Sosha Thomas received a call from an embroidery craftsman in need of help. “He used to work with me earlier and lost his job due to the pandemic. He was expecting his first child and did not want to go in his village in West Bengal empty-handed. In line with COVID-19 standards, we got permission from the authorities for him to work in my studio,” says Sosha, who exports hand embroidery designs to fashion studios in the UK and US. – such as Hale Bob, Amanda Kelly – for the past decade. But when several other artisans of Bengal approached her for the job, things took a different turn, and soon her clothing brand S24 Parganas – named after the neighborhood the artisans hailed from – was born.

“I never considered creating a national brand because I was very happy with what I was doing, but we had to create work for them,” says Sosha, who launched the brand in 2020 – with husband Praveen Pandaredattil – with a small line of hand-embroidered tops and silk kurtas, accompanied by two karigares. “We wondered if it would be possible for these brilliant karigares find work in their own village, rather than being a migrant workforce. It worked well as they were happy to work with their families around them. The response to our initial collection has been phenomenal,” says the 49-year-old entrepreneur, adding that artisans returned home once lockdown restrictions eased but continued to work from there. All artwork is original and hand-drawn by Sosha and her daughters, who are couriered with the raw materials to artisans in southern 24 Parganas. Once they receive the embroidered panels, the Bangalore team washes them, dry cleans them and sews them onto the garments.

A craftsman at work

A craftsman at work

Apart from Covid, Sosha explains how the homes of karigares were badly damaged by Cyclone Amphan. “Furthermore, with digital embroidery flooding all segments of the market, hand embroidery was losing its value. At this stage, the embroiderers were disenchanted and sought other occupations.

May flowers and geometry

The brand’s latest collection, launched in February 2022, is inspired by traditional Eastern European embroidery and includes dresses and tops. “It has a vibrant color palette – fuschia, dark purple, mulberry, jade – and features three-dimensional embroidery with floral, geometric and Aztec-inspired designs. on a fine cotton muslin contrasting with our silk kantha-patchwork jackets,” says Sosha, explaining how, when she noticed the cantha quilts handmade by the mothers of the karigars from old saris, their line of jackets is taking shape. With bright florals at the center of most outfits, she says their most popular blouse, The Mayflowers, is part of their debut collection. “It combines intricate geometric borders and Hungarian floral patterns.” The fuchsia dress, adorned with nature-inspired floral embroidery, is another favourite, as is their Cypress blouse with miniature Mughal flowers in embroidery.

Sosha Thomas (left) with her daughter Samara

Sosha Thomas (left) with her daughter Samara

All eyes on aari

Compared to other embroidery styles, what makes the art form of South 24 Parganas unique? Sosha says the embroiderers in the district are descendants of the original zardozi and aarikarigares. “Their talent and sense of color is unmatched. We use contemporary designs merged with traditional hand embroidery techniques to create products. While many female embroiderers use the round wooden frame, these karigares work on long wooden frames, with aari needles,” she says, adding that the front and back of the embroidery are the same, unlike machine or computer embroidery where the reverse is visible.

Nearly 20 artisans employed by Sosha work only with natural fabrics such as cotton, linen and silk. “We also use fabrics made with recycled yarns. Our cantha the jackets are a patchwork of recycled fabrics,” she says, adding, “Women had never been paid for their work before, so this was a huge step forward for us.

A snapshot of their collection

A snapshot of their collection

Lasting legacy

From the initial line of white embroidered blouses, made in 2020, to two collections a year, the entrepreneur says the brand has come a long way. “We want hand embroidery to be accessible to more people because it would mean more work for embroiderers. While most hand embroidery brands use viscose silk thread, we use cotton thread, which is machine washable and durable,” adds Sosha, who works on a modern line of silk kurtas for the India. “To meet the demand, we are bringing back the kurtas – with park embroidery – which were part of our first launch. Currently, the team is experimenting phulkari, suzani embroidery that will soon be found in their Winter 2022 collection composed of jackets and tunics in darker shades.

Detailing their baby steps towards sustainability, Sosha says she plans to include more hand-woven fabrics and recycled yarns in their collections. “We are also working on ways to minimize fabric waste by reusing scraps generated by cutting quilts, jackets and even our packing bags,” she adds, adding that the brand would like, without being too expensive, that his clothes are heirloom pieces. .

A patchwork jacket from their collection

A patchwork jacket from their collection

Over the next three years, the team hopes to expand and work with different marginalized communities in Bengaluru and South 24 Parganas. “We started employing women from disadvantaged neighborhoods who learn embroidery at a local school in Bengaluru. We try to train them to make our jackets,” says Sosha, adding that she is working to collaborate with stores like Ambara in Bengaluru and a few in Paris. “We want to grow the brand organically, by making karigar the center of our history. Abroad, creators visit the house of the craftsman, but in India, they come to us to seek work and remain anonymous. I want to change that,” she concludes.

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