Attempting to revive Indian craftsmanship, home decor brand Ikai Asai taps into the country’s rich and cultural diversity. From Gujarat to Northeast India and more, the label’s products are made by different craft clusters.
The label’s team has been travelling to Kutch, Meghalaya and Manipur, and engaging with various craft communities. Its first stop in Kutch is to explore the region’s Suf and Tangalia embroidery. In a chat with ELLE, Ika Asai’s CEO Kanupriya Verma tells us all about her label’s journey.
ELLE: What inspired you to start Ikai Asai?
Kanupriya Verma: Hailing from a small town in central India, I travelled with my father on his work visits in the forest and engaged with the local tribal communities. I was 18 or 19 when I was visiting Bastar in Chhattisgarh. I remember being fascinated by the incredible art of lost-wax casting (Dhokra) among other terracotta crafts, wrought iron, etc. My mind observed two things — firstly, unequal distribution of money and income disparity, and secondly, how artisans are immensely creative but are undervalued and unrecognised. These were simple observations by a younger mind but laid the foundation for what I am doing today. With a desire to create something meaningful, I took a risk and dropped out of MBA placements. I followed my intuition and ended up stumbling upon an opportunity to create something that’s taking me closer to my purpose.
ELLE: How do you plan to build a community of artisans and bring their creativity to the forefront?
KV: Design for me is more than aesthetic and function — it’s about solving a complex human problem. I am on the journey of designing an impactful and sustainable system/platform that can empower and give voice to human creativity. I have been actively working on this vision for the past five years now — from idea to execution to failure to rebuilding, to now where we are, ready for scale. Our goal is to expand on our discoveries and nurture our relationships by facilitating curated, equitable collaborations between the artisans and Indian designers.
ELLE: Your current project is exploring the textiles of Kutch, Gujarat. What is the idea behind it?
KV: Our table linen is made in Kutch. The region is a melting pot of diverse communities and craft cultures – and when we think of it, the organic, resilient Kala cotton comes up. It is an indigenous rain-fed cotton grown in Gujarat. Acknowledged as one of the most carbon-efficient cotton globally, the spinning and weaving of Kala cotton was revived recently in the region. We used this traditional material, not just for its natural aesthetic but also to celebrate the socio-economic ramifications in connection to its local communities. The textile is then handwoven on the loom through Tangalia and then textures were rendered with Suf embroidery.
ELLE: Tell us more about Tangalia weaving and Suf embroidery.
KV: The Tangalia style of weaving is practised today only in a handful of villages in Gujarat, where patterns are woven into the fabric by arranging raised dots of thread visible on both sides of the fabric. This technique requires skill, nimble fingers, attention to detail and, of course, patience.
Suf is an embroidery technique based on the triangular shape called a ‘suf.’ The embroidery is counted on the warp, and the stitch is worked from the back. Motifs are traditionally not drawn but are developed around a progression of triangles and diamonds. Each design is created through imagination and counts in several patterns. Every artisan displays amazing dexterity, imagination and skill.
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ELLE: What does the future hold for Ikai Asai?
KV: We hope to expand our product offering beyond the table into broader collections this year and are also working towards the launch of the Ikai Asai Foundation. Along with that, we’re also working on figuring out how micro-finance can be included in the craft sector: so while one focus is to create the brand, which generates the demand as well as builds awareness, the other is to work on a robust and strong supply chain that is sustainable and here for the long term.