Merging age old local designs with street fashion as premium wear
Since ancient times, Bangladesh has been considered the embodiment of craftsmanship and textile heritage. While this might be a good thing, age old traditions and craftsmen are at the verge of extinction.
“From Dacca” lit a bulb to a unique strategy to marry the traditional designs to modern concepts. With the launch of their block print and nokshi katha embroidered sweat shirts, the new venture had landed a jackpot. Last year in December, within two days of the launching of the venture, From Dacca received 25 orders.
Jobayed Uddin and Mahfuzul Karim, early founders of the venture, came to the ideation of From Dacca when they realized they were “at the peak of their youth.” Not just thinking about their future, they also took into serious consideration doing something that would be beneficial for the society. The idea came to being by merging the traditional designs with the street fashion that would attract the youth.
Dacca, which was the former name of the capital city, Dhaka, was changed after the arrival of the colonists, who considered Dacca a place with richness, and to this Jobayed said: “We wanted to embody that perception with street fashion. We could not name it by the name of the city so we named it ‘From Dacca’.”
Months prior the launch of the business, the two childhood friends did their own research to meet their vision. “Until I did my research I had no idea how deep this was. We have so many textile arts yet Bangladesh is only recognized for its cheap labour. We wanted to change that,” said Jobayed. With Tk11,000 saved up from his scholarship fee, Jobayed, along with Mahfuz spent months in the grind of finding the resources and the artisans.
It was even tougher than it sounds. Jobayed said: “We did find a huge number of artisans but it was hard to get access to them directly.” After they got the access, it was time for them to convince them to work for From Dacca. “To them, we were new and the work was new. No one likes changes,” said Jobayed adding that they gradually persuaded them into doing the same. However, the only difference was that instead of working on kamiz they were asked to do the same thing on sweat shirts.
A small town of Jamalpur has over 200,000 women earning their livelihood by the work they receive from the merchants. These women are specialized in hand work. With ‘From Dacca’ team’s multiple visits to the town, they witnessed the shift of work — from handmade to machine work. While the artisans did receive training and work from big industries, the majority of them struggled to meet their ends with the small earnings they received. Another childhood friend, Tameem Sultan, who later joined the venture, said: “The artisans were so deprived of their rightful earnings, that they were happy to receive whatever we were willing to give them. We made 40 pieces in two days and seeing their condition we were happy to give them thrice the amount merchants used to pay them”.
The idea, initially, was to do embroidery work on sweatshirt. After several prototypes they learnt that direct embroidery on sweat shirt does not look good; so they had to improvise. They went back in search for artisans who would do customized block designs. The hassle of making a perfect end product does not end here. The team also had to experiment with the threads. They tested with both buli and reshmi shuta (threads). Buli shuta, which is thick, is easier to work is. Hence, the workers were always asked by the merchants to work with buli shuta. On the other hand, there is reshmi shuta, which is very thin and highlights intricate designs. As artisans were used to working with the former threads, they had lost their touch with reshmi shuta. Finally, upon finding people who agreed to get back to working with reshmi shuta, the team made the very last prototype.
From collecting sweat shirts from garments, to making and printing block designs on fabrics, and placing them on the shirt with intricate embroidered designs — From Dacca was finally able to exhale a sigh of relief and launch it. Each sweat shirt is now sold for Tk1,350.
Regardless of all the hassles and balancing time while doing undergrad classes, the team remained committed to their motto and to deliver the best finished products. Getting work done through three mediums and with a selling price of Tk1,350, one must wonder about the funding. Luckily it was the parents of the founders who agreed to come forward with the funding. Mahfuz’s mother, who was present at the interview with Avenue T as her son’s representative, shared her take on the venture. She mentioned: “I used to see how passionate they were about their work. They even considered improving the lives of the craftsmen. This made me believe in the work they were doing.” Jobayed’s mother who was hesitant about the whole process, came around when she started seeing him sincerely working on the venture.
Together, the friends and the parents have made a pact to improve the livelihood of the craftsmen, hold on to the pride of the local arts and craftsmen. To extend the business further, Mahfuz, who is studying in the US, plans on marketing the venture abroad as well.
As Jobayed said: “From Dacca” to the world” get your hands on the unique work of nokshi katha on sweat shirts this winter. New designs will be introduced in April this year. For more information, keep an eye on: https://www.instagram.com/fromdacca/?hl=en or https://www.facebook.com/fromdacca/