Kolkata looks for new & exciting fashion options at the city’s many exquisite, exclusive boutiques.
Sree Deb has been preparing for this moment for months, and it’s finally here. Durga Puja is around the corner and the shopping spree for Kolkata’s biggest festival is well underway. Deb runs a little boutique from her home in Tollygunge where she retails a collection of saris of her own creation, and her Puja assemblage is already selling like hot cakes.
Sree Deb has been running a boutique of exclusive saris from her home in Tollygunge for the last 13 years.
“I’ve been drawing and making sketches since I was a little girl. After my daughter grew up I had all the free time on my hands, so I thought of turning my hobby into something more productive,” she says. Today, 13 years after she started, Sree’s – her boutique – has gained much popularity, especially in the neighbourhood.
They may be a little more expensive but boutiques make for an altogether more personal shopping experience that the everyday store. “Every year I send invites to my regular customers so they know I have a new collection,” Deb says.
Team M3.tv spoke with some of Sree's most loyal customers at the store, who all vouched for her ability to dress them beautifully and elegantly. “I’ve stopped going to Gariahat. Why venture into that chaos when you can shop in the comfort of your own friend’s home,” says Leela Ray. She has already bought six or seven saris from Sree for herself and her family, and as each new design rolls out she is more sorely tempted to pick those up too.
But there’s more to the boutique business than meets the eye. “It’s a lot of work,” Shree, also a school teacher, tells us, “I go to the school at 9 am, and return by 12. By 12.30 pm the house is filled with karigars. My customers usually start dropping in after 3. My days are very full.”
It is hard work keeping a business going, and there is a lot to keep a track of. But a few women in the city are doing it with a smile.
Firangi Desi is the brainchild of Sudeshna Chatterjee who believes in ‘clothes with a soul’. She echoes Sree on the amount of time and effort required to set up a boutique. “It’s a slog,” she says, “I looked at 321 houses before settling on this one. It is important for a boutique to be private – if not exclusive – but at the same time, you need to make sure you attract customers.” Boutiques are the ‘in’ thing across Indian metros today. In Kolkata, it is important to be seen in brands, but many are looking out for something with a little more oomph.
“People are willing to spend money, but they need to be sure that they’re getting something unique, something that’s great quality, and something that’s new and improved,” says Sudeshna. According to her, bright bold colours – greens, blues and reds – are in this year, and cottons are gaining precedence over chiffon or tissue materials. “We’re making these interesting long skirts and ghagras this year and we’re making them out of pure cotton – it’s unconventional but they’re drawing more glances than the regular stuff,” Sudeshna says.
Many of the karigars working for these boutiques live in the interiors of Bengal’s districts. Tant – or woven cotton – from Nadia, is especially popular. Testifying to this, Samir Pramanik, a saree trader from Shantipur in Nadia, says, “Shantipur’s tant saree is world famous. Although, today tant sarees are being made in powerlooms too, the ones made by handloom workers are still most popular among Bengal’s women this Puja.”
Tarak Das, state secretary, Sara Bangla Tant Silpa Bachao Committee says, “There is a huge demand for hand woven tanter saree. Nadia’s workers have been busy weaving these saris for months now, so they can be ready for Puja shoppers.”
Fads come and go, and karigars tap into the popular demands of urban Bengal via boutique owners. Ranabrata Biswas, who is a computer aided designer (CAD) of saris, says, “Last year, the Baha saree was hugely popular; the demand for these went through the roof. However, this year, a special variety of Tangail saree has already proved immensely popular. So, that’s what the artisans are making.”
Chic yet different
Out-of-the-box is in, and this year Sanjukta Roy is creating quite a splash with some gamcha inspired fashion. For the uninitiated gamcha is a thin, coarse cotton towel used traditionally in Bengal, Tripura and some other parts of India. Their USP is the bright vibrant colours they come in. “Gamchas, lungis and even handkerchiefs are the materials I use to make my clothes,” says Sanjukta, who worked in the textile industry – and the national jute board – for years before she decides to break out and do something on her own. “I love street products. They have a kitschy appeal and a different identity in each state and district,” she adds.
She has been making clothes and jewellery out of these street-side materials and selling them, primarily, online. “I got lucky, because my Facebook page just really took off once I put up some of my designs. I had no money, so I was looking for something cheap to work with, and the gamchas proved to be just the thing people were looking for because I got so many orders instantly,” Sanjukta says.
An outcrop of hundreds of boutiques – big and small –has inundated the city. Whatever the motivation, the women behind these boutiques have clearly tapped into a booming market, and despite the saturation, they’re all doing well. Most are really looking forward to this Durga Puja, when thoughts will hopefully turn from the economic downturn, to allow a bit of indulgence.
“I love dressing up people. I was tired of looking to impersonal department stores to get my fashion fix. So, I opened up this boutique to try and give everyone a chance to express themselves uniquely. Puja season is certainly a time when people allow themselves to really splurge on clothes and looking good, so we’re looking forward to helping them all find their inner diva,” Sudeshna Chatterjee says.
“There’s a lot of work to do in the run up to the Pujas, and I’m usually with my karigars from early in the morning, overseeing the working of the blocks and making sure each of my saris are just the way I want. Customers appreciate unique work and good quality, and that’s what we all strive to provide,” says Sree Deb.
So, if you are tired of the same old assembly line clothes off the rack, head towards a boutique in your neighbourhood to get your pick.