He looks like a regular village guy in his early 30s, his Bengali accent needing you to strain your ears. Then he starts speaking about his work. He knows what designer Rajesh Pratap Singh showed this season at Lakme Fashion Week and what was special about Abraham & Thakore’s collection at the last Amazon India Fashion Week. You fall silent and stare at him; he tells you he works with them all and various other top fashion designers of the country. We met Ramen Basak on a trip to Phulia a couple of weeks ago, a village 85 kilometres north of Calcutta in Nadia district, which is traditionally famous for its weaves. What was once a weaving hub known for the quintessential Bengali taant-er sari has now got a new character, thanks to the influx of fashion designers and export houses that have discovered the talent pool of the Phulia weavers. It is this new avenue of work coming into the village that explains Ramen’s in-depth knowledge of the high-end fashion world. We set out to explore the village, particularly a few weavers’ homes in the neighbourhood of Basakpara where almost all the residences house a family of weavers and every second house has looms of their own. This is their story — told in warp and weft.
Who’s sourcing fabrics from Phulia?
Export houses and retail chains place bulk orders for yardages. Brands like Fabindia, Shagun Overseas and Associated Exports get their fabrics woven here. “We get a lot of export orders, but that doesn’t come to us directly, that comes through exporters. We work with 20-25 export houses and brands and these are big orders. The volume of the work varies, some order fabrics worth Rs 5 lakh, some Rs 10 lakh and some place orders for Rs 1 crore… yardages, saris, dupattas. Like Fabindia gives us work through the year. See that room over there, it’s full of only Fabindia fabrics,” points out Binoy Basak, the manager of Nutan Fulia Tantubay Samabay Samity, a society with a cluster of weavers operating for 25 years. Individual fashion designer labels who get their fabrics or saris woven in Phulia regularly are many, and some of the names that Ramen rattles off are Abraham & Thakore, Rajesh Pratap Singh, Payal Pratap, Anita Dongre, Dhruv Vaish, Payal Khandwala, Crow (Ahmedabad), Tahweave (by Sweta Tantia and Priyangsu Maji) and Abhishek Dutta .