In conversation with Chol
Sustainability has become the buzz-word, and fittingly so, in almost all categories in life -- maybe more so in the fashion industries across the globe. Designers and big labels worldwide are slowly, but surely, beginning to acknowledge, accept, and promote responsible fashion choices, lessening the carbon footprint of the fashion industry. Here to fight the same fight, Chol -- a new platform by Paraa -- was born, for designers and artisans to think beyond the constraints of ‘fast fashion’.
Chol understands the need to preserve and push cultural and design boundaries, focusing on affordable, sustainable and hand-made garments. The platform aims to provide high-quality, smart design clothing, fit for people of all shapes and sizes, while also ensuring the affordability and sustainability in Bangladeshi fashion.
A multidisciplinary Architecture & Design studio, Paraa’s, approach to design is to work with people in a meaningful way. Over the years, one aspect of Paraa’s work has been documenting craft practices, cultures, and design by working with artisans of Bangladesh. The knowledge gained from years of their research -- such as with rural craftspeople in Tangail, the Benarasi saree weavers of Mirpur in Dhaka, to the folk painters in Puran Dhaka -- has helped them to realize how important a role Paraa can play in supporting, enabling, and pushing designers and artisans to create together. Paraa focuses on the important role of the arts, the crafts and the people that intrinsically define the cultures of a place.
Chol understands that the intersections of the arts, design thinking, craft making, cultural practices, the lived experiences of people and their diverse environment are vital to a thriving, sustainable ecosystem for artisans and designers. With this philosophy, Chol recently collaborated with designer Shama Kun, an ethical and sustainable fashion and product designer, on a unique, kantha inspired collection.
When was the idea of the collaboration with Shama Kun conceived? What was the development process like?
A ‘people before profit’ label, Shama Kun focuses on keeping indigenous Bangladeshi textile knowledge alive while providing culturally inspired, cutting edge yet modern wear for the modern person. Shama Kun has in the past been ethically producing all her range in rural weaving belts and craft cluster of Bangladesh.
While designer Shama Kun was planning to expirement with newer designs and Paraa willing to launch an ethical and sustainable brand, the old friendship between the two clicked. Just in the middle of the pandemic and right after the lockdown was lifted, a small sample making studio was set up inside the Paraa studio, Niketan. There were hiccups in the first two months to recruit the right fit people to do the jobs under Shama's leadership, but eventually things worked out. Now Chol has a very smoothly running efficient team facilitated by Paraa.
What was the primary reason behind your first collaboration being built upon Kantha stitch? How would you say this particular style speaks of Chol's and ShamaKun's individual and collective aesthetics?
Chol’s first collaboration is with fashion and product designer Shama Kun and is a capsule collection that is inspired by the memories of comfortable warm nakshikantha blankets. For Shama, kantha carries memories; it's a piece of belonging which reminds her of the cultural roots of her elders. For many, many years there had been this culture of layering old fabrics or recycled sarees with hand embroidery to make kantha and transform it into something new. The fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to pollution in the world. Shama is doing her best to do her part to minimize pollution by exploring the reuse processes of kantha making, and create a dynamic new look. Each outfit has intricate kantha embroidery on it by the women artisans of Korail; old sarees sourced from Begumbazar in old Dhaka and handloom sarees sourced from Korotia, Tangail are used as fabric layers. The entire collection displays a celebration of craftsmanship of Bangladesh.
How would you describe the Chol x Shama Kun collection?
The collection contains classic pieces that can be adorned by anyone, of any gender or size: A sumptuously gorgeous and fully hand embroidered trench coat as worn by Abrar, a tailored bomber jacket, a biker jacket, kimono inspired wraps paired with 70's retro styled flare trousers, a jogging suit with a loose hoodie and bottoms. In some, a puffed sleeve and ruffle detailing were used to add volume.
Keeping the trend of people wanting to have affordable comfort wear in mind, each piece is genuinely a unique item that will be in your wardrobe for a long time, for everyday wear, or even that show stopping, head turning moment when we can once again go to events.
This is a sustainable fashion collection where every bit of the fabrics used resulted in zero waste in the total production.
Let's talk about the artisans behind the collection. Who are they and how were they discovered?
There are two different groups of Artisans working for the collection; one is a women group from the Korail community and another is the women group from Shatarkul, Baddacommunity. Paraa had been working with Korail Community for quite some time on an urban agriculture research project. During some focus group discussions with the community, Paraa came across this dynamic, independent working woman, Saleha Apa, who was leading a group of women in tailoring and embroidery. Having a great establishment built, there were a couple of training and advocacy workshops organized to improve their techniques and quality.
The other group led by Moinaapa from Shatarkul, Badda had been doing this katha embroidery for a pretty long time, and has worked with designer Shama in the past, too. Chol feels having two different groups of artisans has also helped to improve the quality of embroidery, as each group is often trying to outdo the other, and are therefore more open to improve their skills.
How much of their creative freedom did they exercise in terms of design? Was that also a collaborative effort between the designer and the craftswomen?
The craftswomen hadn't explored much of their creativity in this kind of work in the past, hence they didn't put their ideas forward during this collaboration. However, the designer is hopeful that now they will be able to contribute more creatively, because they are adopting more skills gradually.
You've always been vocal about your fight for sustainable, slow fashion. Do you think the Bangladeshi market is as accepting of this concept as the rest of the world yet?
The Bangladeshi market, we feel, understands the value of slow fashion, but the majority are yet to accept the concept as openly and actively as the rest of the world. The fight for sustainable fashion has only just begun here, and we still have a long way to go.
The photoshoot for the collection is an exceptional example of inclusivity and realness. How was that concept born? How were the models chosen, and what message do you wish for it to relay to consumers?
One of the things Chol aims to emphasize on is the celebration of the everyday diversity and lives of people, rather than conform to what the fashion industry deems to be aesthetically beautiful. Working with models who are beautiful and diverse in terms of size and gender is important to Shama, and this collaboration enabled us to explore and present this in a stunning setting.
Chol’s focus is to celebrate the wonderful diversity of Bangladeshi people, often neglected when it comes to the fashion industry. Chol invited people of different ages, sizes, ethnicities, and genders, from different economic backgrounds from Dhaka to participate in this inaugural fashion performance -- none of whom had any fashion or catwalk experiences. Some of the amazing models talked about how age is just a number, plus size is a plus, and beauty is different, and fundamentally, we are all beautiful.
Your experimental fashion video made rounds on social media for being a breath of fresh air in an industry where a more westernized aesthetic dominates. Tell us about the video, and the making of it.
The experimental, fashion music video also featured models from diverse backgrounds. It was shot in one, crazy, day in Begum bazar, Puran Dhaka -- the main source for Shama Kun's collection. The wonderful music track 'Old Cities' is by the amazing duo LAL -- a massive thank you to Rosina Kazi and Nicholas Murray. Paraa's in house creative team was behind the entire video shoot.
Do you have plans in place for more future projects? Can we expect more collaborations with Shama Kun, or the likes, soon?
Definitely, yes. In fact, Chol is already preparing for it's next collaboration with UK based designer Rukia Begum, with whom Paraa previously did an experimental Banarasi Collection in Asian Fashion Week in London. Furthermore, Chol is already establishing it's network to explore different sectors of fashion and the garments industry. We really feel that Bangladesh, being a major export-based garment manufacturer, hasn't made that much progress in its fashion industry, yet. We are trying our best to locate the gap and work towards filling it. And yes, we may have a few more interesting collections by Shama, too -- and soon.
Diana Monica Mong
Tanzina Akhter Tania
Trisha Teresa Dango
Abrar Shadman Arnab