The Way of the Weave - Smriti Morarka

Working with Banarasi weavers for the past 21 years, Smriti Morarka is a Mumbai-based handloom revivalist and designer. Through her strong belief in Indian traditions, she aims to preserve its textile heritage, while also attracting the younger generation to the concept of sarees. A woman with a dream to empower, she’s come a long way, leaving no stone unturned to bring out the very best in hand weaving through her brand, Tantuvi. We got chatting with her during an expo and she revealed some interesting insights from her career. Read on to find out more!

You started off as a history student. What inspired you to enter the textile industry?
I don’t think I chose the cause; I think the cause chose me. Growing up in an art collector’s home, I developed an interest in paintings. And when I was searching for a cause where I could make a difference, my mother happened to be setting up an institute in Banaras, where I witnessed the weaving situation there. It naturally attracted me, and one thing led to another!

What challenges did you face in the industry?
To start with, the weavers’ inhibitions were a challenge. They were skeptical, as they had been taken advantage of by some other designers before I came in to this field. A designer doesn’t use the same fabric every year, as the collection lasts only for six months and then he moves on to a new one. These gaddidars saw me as one of those types, not knowing when I’d be gone. It took me sometime to gain their trust. Secondly, I learnt weaving on the loom. I faced a lot of resistance as women are barred from sitting on looms in Banaras. The challenge I still continue to face is people wanting to poach weavers.

Are you thinking of introducing any clothing items apart from sarees?
We do make lehengas, which takes us a minimum of six months to put together as we don’t make two of a kind. We’ve worked on sherwanis for grooms and their families. I had also made a dhoti once for a family and a one-of-a-kind wall art. There is no repeat for wall art and I do them when I feel it. They are not commercial, though.

How did you come up with the name Tantuvi for your brand?
Tantuvi in Sanskrit means a weaver. Tanta is a loom and tantuv is a person who knows how to use the loom. Because I was looking for a name which was rooted in Indian-ness, Sanskrit seemed like a logical place to find it. Tantuvi felt just right and it happened.

How do you plan on attracting the younger generation to sarees?
Younger generations are quite experimental and quirky with their outfits these days. Still, they’re less likely to wear a saree compared to older generations. But they are subtly taking in the sarees concept, as it is undoubtedly very sexy to wear. I do feel the youngsters have come up with extraordinary ways to drape sarees and are teaming them with trendy blouses these days. They’re wearing it in their own ways, merging and fusing them; it’s endless!

How did you manage to come up with such brilliant ideas, bringing your brand to a global level?
I believed that if I was going to work for a cause, I must make a difference to what was been already made. If I am not able to make that difference, I’ll be making what everyone else is. I started making corrections to make this apparel more flexible in design, quality, touch, and feel. And being a woman and a saree wearer, I could identify what should be improved. It’s been years of experimenting and learning. I’ve worked a lot on details, like my borders and designs.

Do you believe that our tradition is timeless, one that could never get old?
I believe our tradition is timeless and has the ability to change with the generation, making it diverse and ever-evolving. It’s not fossilised. Anything that gets fossilised doesn’t survive, so it has to be a living piece of art to adapt and continue to be attractive.

What lessons have you learnt along the way?
I have learnt respect and patience from my entire endeavor. When we look at any handmade thing and we dismiss it with disdain, it breaks the heart of the person who put in so much time. I feel we don’t grant enough to the last man in the line. It has taught me a lot in my spiritual journey, making me a more rooted, less-cluttered individual.         – as told to Ishika