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The tale of a visionary

  • Published at 07:09 pm January 15th, 2019
AT_ Jan 17, 2019
Photos: Courtesy

Tea with Tootli – sharing her story

Tootli Rahman is a renowned entrepreneur, fashion designer, and event planner in Bangladesh - a visionary who started many lifestyle trends in the country. 

Tootli started her career nearly 35 years ago. She is the only woman in the country who has left her mark as a pioneer in numerous fields, taking the country by storm, such as garden landscaping and plant rental services. In case of wedding planning and décor, she introduced colourful designed shamianas and fairy lights made out of torch bulbs for the very first time in Bangladesh – adding a touch of glamour and fun and revolutionizing the wedding scene of Bangladesh. Tootli also introduced wrought-iron furniture and colour washed pottery for the first time, and opened the country’s first wrought-iron furniture store, Xpressions during the early 1980s. She spearheaded the International Weavers Festival, organized the first ever International Folk Festival in 2015 and was the first to organize fashion shows at Lalbagh Kella and Ahsan Manzil. She is the founder of design label ‘By Deshi’ and was the first one to experiment with fusion wear, particularly fusion weave saris in Bangladesh. Currently, she has stepped into the world of media by hosting her own talk shows Tea with Tootli and Taaza Chayer Adda, which are aired every week. 

“Fashion designing is something that I love to do, always,” said Tootli Rahman. In the last 10 years, Tootli has been designing saris and shalwar kameezes with local materials, incorporating a 'deshi' style.

“For my fashion line, I am mainly promoting deshi style - nokshi katha, khadi and many more. I feel that people should know the fashion of Bangladesh. Our style is very unique and beautiful. We should let the world explore our traditional fashion as well,” she added.

Reminiscing her joyous childhood, Tootli Rahman went on to say, “The little I remember of my childhood is that my mother was an extremely beautiful woman. And she was really very creative. She used to paint, and she used to do crochet work. She also made dresses for all of us, and I was really impressed with that since my childhood. What I remember most vividly is that she used to wear a lot of taant saris, so I used to see a lot of weavers coming to our house. I didn’t know much about these weavers at that point in time, and I was really fascinated by them.” 

“I was only six at the time, but I have distinct memories of running away with their saris, wearing those vibrant colours made me feel so happy. My mother would buy saris from them and wear them, along with some beli phul er mala - it looked so beautiful and I loved how each and everything was completely traditional and Bangladeshi. I’m talking about ages ago, and how elegant the women looked with a boro teep and taant er sari. That’s what inspired me to start working in this industry,” she conceded.

Her dynamic leadership qualities led her to bring together women from all walks of life, to empower and support them through her social service platforms, as the founder and initiator of organizations such as WINGS – a support group for women, Zonta Greater Dhaka, ALO – a drug awareness program and Bangladesh Heritage Crafts Foundation. 

Discussing the current scene of heritage and crafts in Bangladesh, Tootli informed, “We were so proud of our crafts. We were so rich in our culture. And the artisans were so good at what they did – they still are. So why would we want to lose all that? If we don’t attempt to preserve this art form now, believe me in the next 10 years, there’ll be no crafts left to preserve. I’m so happy that we’ve formed a foundation in order to preserve these crafts.”

When we inquired a bit into what encouraged her to be involved with such massive scale events, her face beamed. “Almost five years ago, I got an offer to manage the Folk Festival; a very challenging program, helping me gain the appropriate experience and encouraging me to do a similar mega scale event in my line of labour – that is ‘deshi’ fashion,” she remarked, and then went on to inform us about the story behind its conception. “That’s also how the creative idea behind International Weavers Festival had been apprehended,” she revealed.

Through her many new endeavours, Tootli Rahman is looking to continue providing her support in initiating women empowerment programs, psycho-professional development programs, start-up support and building a bridge connecting Bangladeshi heritage and crafts with the international market. She has worked tirelessly over the years in order to uphold our traditional craft and heritage and is delighted to continue doing so. 

Avenue wanted to know more and so the designer revealed her next goal. “I want to build a heritage crafts village near the capital showcasing the unique artistry of our country, permanently. Foreigners can come to this village and enjoy authentic experiences and gain an in-depth understanding of the rich heritage and culture of our beautiful country.”