Sep 26, 2019 | By Jane Boddy
Sep 24, 2018
Rina Singh is an Indian designer bringing the traditions and crafts of her home country to a global audience. Her fashion brand, Eka, showcases a range of garments hand-made by a community of local weavers. Rina’s relationship with these weavers lies at the heart of her company, and together they combine tradition and innovation to make Indian craftsmanship adaptable and accessible to a global audience. Such a brand leads the movement in sustaining cultural traditions in India.
WGSN Senior Editor Anupreet Bhui spoke to Rina about the processes and values that drive her company.
How did Eka come about in the first place?
The idea was initially very small. I want to use simple, comfortable materials – the kind we would wear as a child in those pinafore-type dresses. Indian lifestyles – especially from my parents’ generation – have been very influenced by sustainability as a lifestyle idea. I want to stick to the ecosystem of making well and selling for longevity rather than worrying what happens when something goes out of trend. It’s about sustaining the traditions and crafts of past generations and serving that to the rest of the world. What I was seeking was not mass consumption, but something created entirely by its environment and ecosystem, a product of an ethnic culture.
What was the process of creating your workforce?
I’ve always worked with one community of workers, and I had to learn how to do this without disrupting the ecosystem of the workers. So I’m buying directly and making directly in their villages; I have people based in Kolkata who go to these villages to make the designs comprehensible to the weavers; they send samples back to me and I reflect on it in terms of the colour, print, design. The question is just making India more contemporary and liveable whilst believing in the root of where you come from and still preserving those ecosystems.
Could you share some individual stories about your weavers?
I know each one of them. I know whose daughter is getting married, I know whose son hasn’t finished college. I know them all really well. They’re the same weavers I have always worked with. They are creators and they work hard and I depend on them a lot – I cannot change my weavers. They help me to make block-print my language so it survives all seasons and I want to keep their craft and their community alive.
What values are most important to you when producing your garments?
The biggest value for me is probably being honest to the product; I don’t think I can take that away from my brand and I don’t want to be what I am not. So long as there is humility and honesty involved then I think we will find our way and that will be reflected throughout the whole value chain. The sense of community is important as well – village living is basically community living and there is a huge interdependence in a village. Eka fosters a similar ecosystem: my weavers and I are interdependent on each other, which is why I named my brand ‘one whole.’ It’s about all of us doing something together.
How does your take on sustainability differ from other Indian designers?
Sustainability basically means putting less pressure on the earth, and I see it rising as a mass movement in India. But from Eka’s point of view, sustaining crafts and livelihoods is my take on it. Of course I use sustainable processes and materials, but more importantly I want to sustain block-printing as a craft. If I am able to work with the same workers and maintain block-printing, then maybe hopefully that is good enough to sustain the whole craft and pass it on.
What are your future plans for Eka and how do you see the brand evolving from the foundations of traditional craft and natural textiles?
Some really exciting things are in the make. When I started Eka I just didn’t want to be limited to just India, and now I’m finding the opportunities to collaborate with people across the world who can help me bring Eka to a larger audience and I hope it will introduce Eka to the world as a point of view, a lifestyle.
For more information about Eka, visit http://www.eka.co.
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