“Sustainability is about preserving our culture, practices, and knowledge. It is not just limited to making a finished product” In conversation with Santanu Das of Maku Textiles.

Image credit: Calico LLP, Japan.

When Santanu Das decided to venture into fashion, experimenting with textiles came as a natural interest. Born and brought up in a Bengali household, he was enamored by his mother’s collection of dhakai jamdani and tangail saris. This prompted him to refurbish the fabrics and the weaves of his home state, West Bengal after he finished his education at NID. 

While creating silk wall coverings for a New York based label Lori Weitzner Design Inc., he realized the superficial boundaries of luxury. Das wanted to create something meaningful and put India on the global map. He launched his company with a singular vision of understanding and exploring the possibilities of fabric innovation. Though the path he chose did not seem to be full of promises initially, he was lured by innumerable possibilities. 

Since the launch of Maku Textiles in 2011, Das has worked with hundred’s of weavers from all over India and has positioned himself as a revivalist. With sustainability at the core, Das wants to alter the way fashion is consumed. They not only intend to make products which are meaningful but also create a level playing field for the weavers by bringing them on the creative front. Besides heading a number of revival initiatives in India he is also catering to a niche set of buyers from London, New York, Taiwan and Japan. 

Das tells us more about his creative journey so far. 

Photo credit: Maku textiles Pvt Ltd, Photograph by Gourab Ganguli

Early days: I joined NID right after my school. It was my first introduction to design. But it took me few years to unlearn all my past conception of design and art, to start embracing a new way of life at NID. Early days were all about rigor. When I had joined NID, I wanted to be a film maker. I was inspired by Indian film makers like Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak. Later I discovered much more from all corners of the world through our film club. But after a couple of years at NID, I discovered my true passion for materials. 

Photo credit: Maku textiles Pvt Ltd, Photograph by Gourab Ganguli

Maku and its ethos:  I ran away from NID after 5 years to New York. I was frustrated with rigidities which NID was imposing on me. I wanted to experience a new world with a fresh perspective to look at things. I landed up with an internship at a design house. There I felt that our perception of luxury has become extremely superficial. I became interested to look at it with more depth. I wanted to replace rich silk fabrics with handwoven fabrics from Indian villages. I felt paying 20 USD per yard to a village weaver makes more sense rather than to a factory worker in Japan. 3 years later in India, I founded my company with a philosophy of promoting single color, Blue. And this blue comes from natural indigo. Indigo is hard to control and achieve consistency. Thus to our advantage, every piece of our garment is unique. Our creative process as Maku is a never ending one. I don’t feel tired. Every little new finding makes us excited like a child. It’s the purity that keeps us going, and gives us the strength to keep exploring the same thing and slowly making it perfect.

Photo credit: Maku textiles Pvt Ltd, Photograph by Gourab Ganguli

Sustainability: Sustainability is about preserving our culture, practices, and knowledge. It is not just limited to making a finished product.  Today sustainability has become a catch-word. It is a certain aesthetic pool, which is slowly stepping into “cool” regime. For me, it is discipline and passion to keep doing the same thing day in and day out, just like a potter or a weaver who keeps practicing his or her craft without even bothering about how to package it. It is a need and a way of life. We are not new to sustainability. We have been practicing it since ages. I have witnessed at home, how our horlicks glass jar will become a container for day to day needful things. I try to retain that at Maku too. We work with the same set of families. We don’t hop-skip-jump with our craftsmen. Rather we work as a family. Our clothes are conceived in collaboration with our weavers. It is many minds and many hands, which results in something pure and meaningful, rather than just beautiful. It’s our quest for knowledge and humility towards practices makes us sustainable. 

Photo credit: Maku textiles Pvt Ltd, Photograph by Gourab Ganguli

Revival initiatives: Bengal exports 70 percent of the total fine cotton in India and has been extremely instrumental in exporting fine hand woven cotton to the rest of the world too. I have been working with the weavers of Bengal and over the past few decades due to the continuous cotton export weavers have forgotten their hand weaving skills and as a result, they are losing their identity. It is unfortunate that someone sitting in Tokyo or in New York will illustrate a pattern to get woven in these villages. Their craft is not just a visual medium. It is a result of complex construction and their way to conceive their patterns and designs. When I started visiting villages, I was surprised to find that no one who could replicate an old saree of my mother. Finally, 1 family agreed to give it a try for me and that’s how we started working and collaborating with the weavers 

Photo credit: Maku textiles Pvt Ltd, Photograph by Gourab Ganguli

Muse: I would define my muse as a woman who has a deep passion for threads, and her core quest is for beauty.

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