Rohit Bal-Usha Silai: Seamless Optimism

Rohit Bal-Usha Silai: Seamless Optimism

A three-way design collaboration with an irrefutable multiplier effect

“ Pride” said couturier Rohit Bal, describing his takeaway from his collaboration with the Usha Silai artisans of Kashmir for The Kashmir Collection. This was on the evening of April 2, when a toast was raised for the in-store launch of this collection now available at the Rohit Bal store in Delhi’s Defence Colony.

Bal looked proud alright—well, in a sunny way, a spring in his step as he pottered around his store—a section of which had been given to for the display of garments made with nine artisans from Kashmir’s Usha Silai schools. The couturier’s salted beard was complemented by a pair of gold-ochre aviator sunglasses that he kept taking on and off through the indoor event as he greeted his guests.


Designer Rohit Bal.

The Kashmir collection mentored by Bal, has been collaboratively created for the Usha Silai label (the third since Usha started its sustenance and go-to-market project for artisans) with the consultation of IMG Reliance. The latter worked as the bridge for design communication, mentorship processes, pricing, sizing, retail business, styling and presentation. Some of us may remember its photo led beam-out when it walked the ramp in January this year at Lakmé Fashion Week’s Summer/ Resort 2019 edition in Mumbai. Bal had taken a bow with Usha Silai artisans from his homeland. If that bow was the “it moment” for cameras, the more poignant one for those with backstage access before the show began was the lost-in-his-own-thoughts Bal, strewing hundreds of dried leaves and fresh flowers on the ramp where shikara (Kashmiri houseboat) installations recreated the mock garden that ‘Guldastah’—the name of this collection—needed as a context.

If “pride” was one word that Bal, quite a poet when he wants to be, chose to describe his Usha Silai experience, “nasha” (intoxication) was another (see related video). The collaboration with the nine women artisans was productive says Bal because being a Kashmiri himself, he spoke in their language, they discussed roses, the Nargis flower, Kashmiri music, kahwa (traditional Kashmiri tea) and wazwan (multi-course Kashmiri delicacies), orchards and apples, chinar leaves and all that’s lost and found in the rubble of Kashmir’s tryst with its warped destiny. “There was a synergy, a connect,” he said pointing to the black, white, blue-grey, red-black ombre, embroidered, pleated, fluted at the hems, flower-bedecked long garments—long skirts, quilted jackets, boleros, capes, embroidered separates, kurtas, tunics and short and long tops—that hung in silent obeisance to Bal’s observations. These clothes are priced as Rohit Bal garments usually are—expensive to say the least. Don’t be surprised if you spot a price tag of ₹50,000 for a three-piece ensemble.


Usha Silai x Rohit Bal ‘Guldastah’ collection at the Rohit Bal store.

Back in Kashmir, while each artisan got design mentorship, the opportunity to work with Bal’s team, understand crafts techniques, silhouettes, fits and colour schemes, as well as ₹5,000 stitching wages per piece, the biggest takeaway may be the optimism that Kashmiri artisans currently need. “They learnt the importance of being self-employed. They felt aspirant and hopeful. These artisans will now train more of their kind and then those will go out and empower an even larger number thus resulting into a multiplier effect,” says Priya Somaiya, the executive director of Usha Silai Social Services. Somaiya said that in her many visits to Kashmir for work, seldom has she noticed the promise and potential that this tie-up brought for the artisans. Little surprise then, the now six-month-old project will be renewed for more work. Usha Silai has 20,350 schools across India out of which 20 are in the Kashmir cluster.

If pride and intoxication (profits too, well for sure) were Bal’s buzzwords and optimism that of the artisans, for Jaspreet Chandok, VP and head of fashion at IMG Reliance, it was an exercise in enabling linkages. “This project has been a great case study for IMG Reliance to showcase our ability to create linkages across the value chain,” says Chandok. “The tie-up has resonated across the industry and we feel it ties in strongly to our stated goal of enhancing designer businesses as well as livelihoods for a larger cross-section of stakeholders,” he adds.

Time perhaps to smell the roses.–2370