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The Silk Route to Success

By Tista Sengupta
Last updated on: October 19, 2015 18:31 IST
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There's something incredible about these young men and women, and it's not just their passion for fashion.

It's how they have merged their love for modern design with their intense desire to nurture traditional methods of weaving.

These young designers from North East India also stand out because of their exquisite creations, eye for detail and spectacular fusion of traditional and conventional designs.

All they need is the rich silk fabric of their respective regions and skilled weavers to translate their design concepts into wearable outfits.

What has helped is the fact that there are over 400 communities hailing from this region; each one specialises in its unique weaves and designs.

Unfortunately, their design sensibilities remain unrecognised. As a result, the art of weaving is dying a slow death.

Tista Sengupta/Rediff.com catches up with five emerging designers from the region who, in their own way, are fighting to keep their traditional art of weaving alive.

Today, we present Daniel Syiem from Meghalaya.

How it all began

Fashion is something I always wanted to pursue. But when you hail from one of India's smallest states, it is not easy to turn such dreams into reality.

Most parents in Meghalaya want their children to work in the government sector or in the field of medicine.

Though my parents knew how much I loved sketching as a child, they were not convinced that I should take up a course in design. They wanted me to graduate in one of the regular subjects.

When I was in college, I took part in fashion shows at college fests where I was able to showcase my talent.

After my graduation in Delhi, I jumped from one job to the other.

I worked at a call centre in Delhi, became a cab driver, a night club manager in Shillong... Then I met Denny, an officer from Meghalaya's sericulture department, who introduced me to the weavers from Ri-Bhoi district. They were abandoning this profession as it no longer helped them earn a living.

Syiem's Affair with Silk

I fell in love with the Ryndia silk that is the speciality of these weavers.

It is a fine organic silk that is extracted from the cocoons without killing the silkworm.

It brought me a step closer to my dream. I wanted to design with this fabric. At the same time, I wanted to help the community so I designed conventional outfits for women with traditional fabrics.

It was around this time I met Janessaline Pyngrope, a social activist who worked for an organisation that helped these weavers. We decided to work together. Our goals were to launch our label soon, provide employment to the weavers and promote our traditional fabric globally.

The challenges

I would meet the weavers everyday and tell them how the fabric is in demand in the global market. Finally, a few weavers started working at my workshop in Shillong; Photograph: Courtesy, Daniel Syiem

Kick-starting a business requires investment. Without strong financial support, things can get difficult.

We were lucky because our parents agreed to provide the initial funding. In 2005, with Rs 4 lakh in our kitty, we were in business.

The first step was to buy four handlooms.

But the biggest challenge -- convincing the weavers to join us – still lay ahead. Weaving, for them, was a secondary means of earning money.

I would meet them everyday and tell them how the fabric is in demand in the global market. Finally, a few weavers started working at my workshop in Shillong.

In order to test the response to my designs, I opened a small boutique. Very soon, I had repeat customers who loved the way I merged traditional fabrics with modern designs.

My confidence rocketed and I was soon looking to launch my label.

Daniel Syiem's Ethnic Fashion House was born in 2009. Janessaline took care of marketing and I headed the creative department.

The way ahead

Though I participated in various workshops and textile shows organised by the government, they only aided me financially a couple of times.

To become a well-known designer, you need to take part in fashion shows at the national level.

Getting sponsors for shows is still difficult.

I wish the government comes forward and introduces schemes to promote weaving and aid us financially to initiate mass production.

Achievements

Daniel Syiem creations

Cool, fashionable pieces from Daniel Syiem's collection. Photograph: Courtesy, Daniel Syiem

Now that the people in my city and in the neighbouring states knew me well, my aim was to reach out to a wider mass.

Naresh Chauhan, a friend who owns a multi-designer store, Twist, in Hauz Khas, New Delhi, approached me three years ago. He wanted to retail my collection. It was, for me, a step in the right direction.

In 2013, I debuted at the Lakme Fashion Week in the 'emerging designer' category and showcased at the London Fashion Week.

Making it to the mainstream has been a difficult but fantastic experience.

Along the way, I learnt...

Never compete with existing designers. It is more important to focus on making beautiful creations.

As a first generation entrepreneur, everyday has been a learning phase. Over a period of time, I have been able to understand the tricks of the trade.

What next?

Stoles and shawls :)

I'm planning a home furnishing line, a menswear collection and a prêt line for women as well.

I am also in talks with buyers in London and will soon be retailing from multi-designer stores there.

Point Of Sale

Daniel Syiem's Ethnic Fashion House
C/o Boscobell
Arbuthnot Road
Opposite Downtown Diagnostic Centre
Nongrim Road
Laitumkhrah
Shillong – 793003
Meghalaya

Online: http://www.dsethnicfashionhouse.com/

Price range: Rs 12,000 – 30,000

Lead image, Courtesy: Daniel Syiem's Ethnic Fashion House's Photos/Facebook 

Do watch out for Part II of this interesting feature tomorrow.

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Tista Sengupta / Rediff.com