Born and brought up in Assam, Sanjukta Dutta always had a flair for weaving the Mekhela Chador. Sanjukta’s Studio, her attempt at following her passion after leaving her engineering job, has seen a fair bit of success, earning revenues of Rs 1.5 crore in the last fiscal year. It was no doubt a demonstration of great courage when technocrat Sanjukta Dutta left a cushy government job to chase her dream of entering the world of fashion. Having been brought up in Assam, Sanjukta has always been fascinated by the beauty and quality of the Mekhela Chador, the traditional Assamese women’s garment.
Born in the Nagoan district of Assam, Sanjukta did her Bachelors of Engineering from Assam Engineering College in 1995, and joined the Public Works Department (PWD) of the Government of Assam as an Assistant Engineer. She worked at the PWD for ten years.
Since childhood, Sanjukta had a love for the Mekhela Chador, sometimes designing the garment for family members, friends and herself. Since then, the zeal for propagating this piece of pure beauty was instilled in her, especially when people expressed a liking for her design. This eventually led her to resign from her job and start a weaving unit in Guwahati in January 2012 to design Mekhela Chador. Within a year and a half, Sanjukta managed to sell 3,000 units of her designed fabrics.
A humble start
Started with a seed capital of Rs 15 lakh and only three looms, Sanjukta’s Studio has grown to more than 100 looms today. In 2013, she set up two hand-crafted units in Guwahati, and in the following year, she opened a commercial boutique, allowing people to visit the boutique and order the garments and ornaments.
Along with the knitting and weaving of garments, Sanjukta also started experimenting with Assamese traditional jewellery – Dug Dugi, Keru Moni and Junbiri. She claims to have sold more than 500 pieces of redesigned traditional Assamese jewellery within a short span of time.
Sanjukta is, however, quick to point out that the journey was not completely smooth, with the artisans of the Mekhela Chador falling prey to the pushes and pulls of demand and supply.
“The cost advantage of China drew a large portion of the Muga industry out of Assam to China. This, coupled with the better financial opportunities available in other areas, slowly but surely drew these artisans away from the industry. Thus, one of the key factors that I had to battle with and focus on while trying to revive this industry was drawing these artisans back,” says Sanjukta.
Today, Sanjukta’s Studio supports over a hundred families of artisans, covering all aspects like education, medical needs and lodging, apart from salaries. It was with the promise of supporting their families that Sanjukta motivated the artisans to be a part of her endeavour.
Even after providing these benefits to the artisans, Sanjukta claims to manage to make healthy profits, which she reinvests in getting more artisans. At present, Sanjukta’s Studio sells 500 sets of Mekhela Chador per month, with a price range of Rs 10,000-80,000. The venture generated a revenue of Rs 1.5 crore in the last fiscal year.
Sanjukta says that their Facebook page has helped in getting more orders and reaching a wider audience. Moreover, showcasing Mekhela Chador at various fashion shows also helped in spreading awareness of Sanjukta’s designs across the nation.
Weaving Mekhela Chador
Every mekhela chador is designed, customised and hand-crafted by a select group of specialised mekhela chador artisans. The materials used are locally produced by tearing silkworms and getting cocoons of a particular lineage of worms found only in a single village in Assam.
Handloom where the silk is woven into beautiful fabrics. “Sanjukta’s Studio offers a wide choice of characteristic silk mekhela chadors with different varieties of coloured silk threads – ranging from orange, blue and yellow to the more traditional colours like red, black and muga. Each single mekhela chador designed by us is unique, and goes through a rigorous 45-day production cycle before it can effectively tell the story that the beautiful woman draping it wants it to,” says Sanjukta.
More than 100 artisans are working with Sanjukta’s Studio, and Sanjkuta herself is working with 63 female Assamese artisans. The mekhela chadors are seeing traction not only from Guwahati, but also from Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru.
According to a report by ASSOCHAM, the booming designer wear industry in India is likely to cross the Rs 11,000 crore mark by 2020. Higher disposable incomes leading to rising purchasing power, the emergence of mall culture, changing senses of style and dressing, and growing fashion consciousness among urbanites collectively attribute to the growth of this industry. Ritu Kumar, Manish Malhotra, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Arjun Khanna, Bibhu Mohapatra, Manish Arora, Masaba Gupta, Shruti Sancheti and Tarun Tahiliani are some of the renowned fashion designers in the country.