Now Online: Ikat’s Bali Jatra and Other Voyages
With a new e-commerce portal and an ambitious new collection of ikat saris, textile designer Gunjan Jain embraces the digital space
The Palepai, more popularly known as ship cloth, is integral to Indonesian design heritage. Featuring varied imagery of sailors and sea voyages, the ceremonial textiles are used to ward off evil spirits. In her new collection, Delhi-based textile designer Gunjan Jain draws from this traditional art form to create a sari she has named “Jatra” (voyage). In an array of shades—dark purple, magenta, navy blue, red—the handwoven saris feature a slim border and a distinct ship motif on the pallu. “We introduced the traditional stick figures of Odisha's Soara art into this design along with innovative soft tussar silk textures,” Jain says.
The Jatra sari is one of the key pieces in “Bali Jatra”, a new collection of Ikat drapes by Vriksh Designs, founded by Jain in 2008. Bali Jatra (a journey/voyage to Bali) is a festival celebrated in Odisha, commemorating the journeys of Odia sailors to faraway lands such as Bali, Indonesia or Sri Lanka. The festival is a fitting inspiration for Vriksh—a textile label rooted in reinventing traditional Odisha handlooms—and the new collection, which aims to showcase the trajectory of the ikat’s design repertoire beyond its shores.
Ikat’s Long Voyage
Long before ikat became a buzzy design trend, its practise spanned the world—parts of Latin America, Africa and Europe but predominantly in India and Southeast Asia. Jain, who has been working with crafts clusters across Odisha for over a decade, says conceptualising and creating the new collection took two years of painstaking research and exercise. “I had to dig out numerous archives to understand the influences of Odisha and Southeast Asia on each other's design vocabularies,” she says. “The most common link one finds is the mention of Patolas, broadly understood as Indian Ikat in Southeast Asia.”
“Bali Jatra” present a contemporary take on ikat. The Sarong sari, available in three colours, incorporates the Indonesian temple (known as tumple) layout while the Parvat sari is inspired from the extra weft patterns of Laotian looms. The pallu of the Melati sari showcases Andhra's floral chintz patterns woven in a curvilinear ikat style and arranged in a Indonesian conical layout. Then, there are the striking Jwala and Agni saris, showcasing patterns of fire—a recurring symbol in Southeast Asian cultures.
In her research, Jain found help in resources in the 'World Ikat Textile Symposium & Exhibition', an annual event celebrating the repertoire of ikat, held across UK, India, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Vriksh has been participating in the exposition for the past three years.
Digital Storytelling and Artisan Stories
Unveiled in tandem with Vriksh’s new ecommerce extension on its website, a selection of saris from “Bali Jatra”, along with previous collections, is presently online. Some designs have already sold out. Jain says that the e-commerce platform, which went live end of May, has received a good response, especially from long-time followers of the label. But going digital comes with its own goals and challenges. “When we talk of sustainable, slow fashion, there’s a dichotomy in going online—on one side, it’s a slow design and production process while the online space is all about things happening at the a click of a button,” Jain says. “The challenge is to keep the consumer interested.”
The Vriksh team emphasises on storytelling—anecdotes of the people and process behind the products—for digital engagements. In April, Vriksh launched a social media campaign titled #WeavingOurWayForward, narrating stories from weavers and artisans many based on Jain’s conversation with them. “This campaign has helped build solidarity across craftspeople, consumers and the craft community at large,” says Jain. “The dialogues with weavers have given me hope and conviction to carry on my journey in the handmade sector.”