Designer Anita Dongre opened her high waist bodyshaper first US store, Grassroot, in July in New York City’s Soho neighborhood — and just three weeks later, back in India, she debuted a new high-end collection at Couture Week in Delhi. “It’s always busy in fashion,” she says when we speak on the phone. And while things are particularly hectic for Dongre — she runs a fashion empire, after all — what keeps her particularly active is a commitment to working with artisans from villages in India to ensure their craftsmanship doesn’t get erased.
Dongre started Grassroot almost a decade ago, though her first brick-and-mortar store only opened less than three years ago. Now, there are two in Delhi and two in Mumbai, in addition to the new Soho location, and each makes the line’s central tenet clear: Grassroot exists to support India’s artisan clusters and their traditions.
Across India, the art of weaving and embroidery is dying off, and Grassroot works with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other organizations like Self Employed Women’s Assocation, a trade union, to sustain the crafts.
As the younger generation loses interest in the art, Dongre works with women artisans from villages across India and does what she calls “design intervention” — she helps them apply their talents to make more contemporary clothes, “recreating designs and color combinations” from traditional Indian garments for a modern, global shopper. “These skills are so valuable, and are passed down generation to generation,” she says.
While the designer — a household name in India — boasts three other brands that range from South Asian bridal couture to everyday dresses and other “boho-chic” clothing, Dongre explains that Grassroot has a different business model, “in the sense that it creates collections mainly to provide work to the artisans.” She and her design team go to the (literal) drawing board and sketch out ideas; from there, whenever they identify artisans that need work, they amend the designs to suit the group’s skills.
“The beauty is working within those parameters of what the artisan can do with the craft,” she says. “And then bringing in a completely new fashion, style, and contemporary feel to it to make beautiful clothes that women will enjoy — with the added bonus that it’s all handwoven or handcrafted. “
Here, she talks more about how she incorporates traditional designs into her collections, the importance of comfort in fashion, and what’s coming up next.