Bibhu Mohapatra is a renowned global fashion designer based in New York. An Odia by origin, Mohapatra is known for showcasing eye-catching designs across the globe. Michelle Obama & many other celebrities are in his clientele list. While in the city, Mohapatra spoke to Orissa POST. Excerpts from the interview:
Is there a demand for Odisha products in foreign countries?
Definitely. There is a demand for Odisha textiles and handloom in foreign countries. There are many countries who have taken Odia crafts and doing Ikat all over and marketing it. For us, not to use Odisha Ikat and putting it in the global market is a sin. Its heritage is of 100 years. Odia’s sensibility to utilise patterns and colours are the key to nurturing them.
What is the status of weavers in Odisha?
Around seven years ago I went to Nuapatna. To be very honest, I was heart-broken by seeing the condition of weavers. They have been entrusted with the task of keeping alive the tradition of Odisha. I was but hopeful after talking to them. If I can get support from the government I can do my bit to bring a change.
How about taking Odia textiles, handlooms to global levels?
In foreign countries there are too many takers of sarees but if we can use these materials in designing dress materials that could have a lot of potential. I have spoken to two of the fabric representatives in New York. Their work is to take them to European and Asian events and keep it at showrooms in small pieces. Then international designers see it, chose it and take it to runaway collections and after showing them to buyers they give orders. The order could be 50 metres to 5000 metres. Do we have the capacity to produce that? How can we bring such infrastructure to these communities to support such demands? We have to be realistic. We have to be careful. It is about the name of Odisha and the names of the communities. We should take small steps to reach out to the moon.
How could we ensure best prices for weavers?
The middlemen have the right to sell it at the market but they need to compensate the weavers accordingly. There should be a fixed percentage of the selling price that should go to weavers. There has to be a change in the way everything is being operated. It I get involved, I want that there are officially signed guidelines and documents. Every purchase should be electronically transacted for transparency. The authenticity comes from the weavers. Their names should be woven onto the products and their stories should be told.
Are there any possibilities for textile, handloom investors in Odisha?
Possibilities are there. We have to build up confidence in investors who can actually come in and see what happens in Odisha. If we can build the confidence of investors then this can happen. In 2017, we did it in a small scale. For outside investors, many are focused on returns. We need to ensure we can deliver to the demands.
Tell us about the dress design for Michelle Obama
I gave Michelle Obama one of the sarees that was on the runway which was done in silk. It was a purple colour saree with peacocks at the borders. I gave it to her and she loved it. We are planning to make a dress out of it. Maybe someday she will wear it.
Manish Kumar, OP