Working with over 16,000 weavers and artisans, lifestyle brand Suta has been turning heads for quite some time.
A brainchild of sisters Sujata (Su) and Taniya (Ta) Biswas, Suta aims to preserve and make the ancient craft of weaving fashionable through stories and sarees. What started as a bedroom project, Suta now is a happy place for over 150 employees with a collective desire to make a positive impact on ground to ensure the legacies of our precious crafts and weaves find a place in the modern context.
An alumnus of CET Bhubaneswar and IIFT Delhi, Sujata worked for seven years with Essar Group and Jindal Group. She then took up PhD in e-commerce at IIT Bombay with the aim of exploring how she could make an impact & contribute to social development. Later, she co-founded Suta with her sister Taniya.
Similarly, Taniya, a vocal advocate for mindful fashion, was the winner of the Times She UnLTD Entrepreneur Awards 2019 and was recognized as the Best Women Entrepreneurs of 2019- She The People. Taniya also runs her own podcasts where she talks about her passion for entrepreneurship and her love for simple joys in life.
Sujata and Taniya spent their childhood in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. During their recent visit to the city, the sisters sat down for a conversation with the Executive Director of Sambad group, Ms. Tanaya Patnaik, at Bakul Foundation.
You started your production in West Bengal. You have your store in Mumbai. But your heart is in Odisha. So tell us something about your childhood memories.
Taniya: Odisha feels home. We have lived here for 16 years. We lived in Bhubaneswar. Our father loved the city so much that he made sure we studied here even though he had to travel a lot for his work.
Sujata: We know how to read and write Odia. Odisha has a deep connect with the way we have grown up. Our ethos and beliefs are a lot like the people here. We eat ‘Santula’, we eat ‘Pakhala’ and in our houses we cook Odia cuisines. The moment we landed in Bhubaneswar I thought we were back home. Odisha has given us everything. Even our understanding of sarees came from our mom who used to wear different kinds of handlooms. For us, Suta pays homage to our childhood memories.
How did your love for sarees begin?
Taniya: Our love for sarees began by seeing our mother, aunts and everyone around. Sarees just look elegant on people. Suddenly in our generation we felt that sarees are only meant for occasions. They will only come out when the day is right or the weather. So we felt that sarees should make a comeback. If not us then who will do it?
When we were kids, we used to visit our grandparents’ house and our grandmother used to hang sarees in the yard. In summers, when the saree is soft and wet, we used to run circles around them. The feel of the fabric on our skin is what we wanted to get back.
Sujata: We also wanted youngsters to realize how versatile sarees are. For example, sarees fit you regardless of your shape or size. It’s a non-judgemental attire!
The first weave or product of Suta must have been very special. Tell us something about the first piece of fabric that you produced.
Sujata: The first saree of Suta was a Mulmul saree with just one colour. We are not designers. We just wanted the simplest of things in the best quality.
We went from door to door in a village in West Bengal. It was very difficult to convince the weavers to make plain sarees for us because they did not believe that we would wear them. The second-biggest demographic that buys our sarees comprises young girls aged 18-25. So a lot of youngsters are wearing sarees now.
How can the art of weaving be preserved because a lot of weavers do not want to pass on the craft to their children?
Sujata: Weavers are really talented with a large skillset. What they really want is for us to respect the art that they love so much. When we started Suta, we decided that even if we work with just two weavers, we will give them 365-days work. Even if the collections did not work out or something went wrong we made sure that we give them work. That is the only assurance that they need.
Taniya: In the communities with whom we work we have seen kids learn the craft not for a means to make money but they do it because it is ingrained in them. The children actually helped us a lot during the pandemic, teaching their parents how to use the internet, get in touch with us, etc.
Suta has a network of 16,000 weavers. How do the two of you manage that?
Taniya: It is not just the two of us. It is 150 of us at Suta.
Sujata: Yes, we have different departments handling different aspects. For example, we also work with Kashmiri weavers who are 400 in number. In one village with have 900 embroiders. So we have a dedicated team and network to get things done.
Suta has been very story-driven and you have nearly half a million followers on Instagram. How do you manage that?
Sujata: Initially, we did it all by ourselves. We had to explain to people why we do what we do. But now we have a big team that works with the content team. We also have a marketing team to figure out what the customers really want as we encourage a lot of customer feedback. We want people to remember our sarees with a story.
Taniya: A lot of people have bought a saree because they loved the story associated with it. We want people to mindfully buy things.
The full interview can be watched here:
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