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October 24, 2017
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Resort 2013 collection in which Mohapatra incorporates Ikat designs. Photo courtesy of Bibhu Mohapatra

Indian-American designer, Bibhu Mohapatra, continues to take the fashion world by storm. Even before graduating from New York's prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology in 1999, Mohapatra received the school's Critic's Award for Best Evening Wear Designer while in his senior year. He developed his skills as an assistant designer at Halston, before moving on to create luxury ready-to-wear collections as design director for J.Mendel. After a decade spent honing his craft, Mohapatra launched his signature collection in 2009, which he presented during New York Fashion Week, and he hasn't slowed down since. 

Bibhu Mohapatra.

Photo courtesy of Bibhu Mohapatra.

As a youngster growing up in Odisha, a state located on India's east coast, Mohapatra's interest in design was nurtured by his sister, for whom he designed clothes. His love of the vibrant colours and graphic patterns that were hand-woven by the artisans of his homeland continue to fuel his passion for design. These days, Mohapatra incorporates traditional Odiya designs into his collections, infusing brilliant combinations of rich, bold and youthful patterns. Pieces from his Resort 2013 collection incorporated intricate ikat prints that are synonymous with India's arts and crafts industry. 

During his time as design director for J. Mendel, Mohapatra recognised the market need for luxury evening wear and so after leaving the French furrier house following the Spring 2008 collection, he began working for a selection of private clients in New York, Europe and India. But, even with his most recent high profile client, First Lady Michelle Obama, validating his success as a designer, Mohapatra remains true to his fashion roots and gathers inspiration from his Indian heritage. In fact, his penchant for the eclectic art and craft designs of Odia fabric weavers was the impetus for the Design Bank project, which aims to promote the use of traditional textiles on an international level.

Although Mohapatra firmly believes there is a definitive market for such traditional craftsmanship, the right business plan is required in order for crafters to prosper. According to the Odisha Diary, a publication of the Odisha Media Service, the designer recently met with government officials to discuss the infrastructure needed in order for weavers to meet the growing demands of a global market. "I am looking for an agent in New York to showcase these [fabric] designs so that other international designers are also inspired to use them in their products," Mohapatra told the Business Standard, the daily Indian newspaper. With the wide array of patterns available, his Design Bank project offers designers the opportunity to establish innovative lines from fabrics that were created in a truly organic medium.

With skill and knowledge passed down from one generation of craftsmen to the next, handloom is a craft that has been literally woven into the nation's cultural and economic fabric.

Next to agriculture, Odisha's textile industry - in particular its handloom sector - is the top employer of rural artisans. With skill and knowledge passed down from one generation of craftsmen to the next, handloom is a craft that has been literally woven into the nation's cultural and economic fabric for centuries. According to Odisha's government, the handloom sector is not only an economic commodity but it's also a medium that preserves the region's unique culture and heritage. Mohapatra's Design Bank initiative, then, would appear to be a favourable venture for both the designer and Odisha's government. With more than 40 designs submitted to the state government so far, Mohapatra plans to include ethnic crafts and fabrics into his next collection. The Business Standard further reports that Mohapatra is anticipating the arrival of the first sample and also plans to source fabric from weavers in regions of Western Odisha.  

In an area of India such as Odisha, where one may believe that the preservation of the tradition and quality craftsmanship of the handcrafted textile industry, are as important as achieving commercial success, Mohapatra's project may take time to meet the high production demands of a global fashion economy. While India's textile industry may be prepared for the economic success of launching traditional fabric designs into the mainstream fashion sphere, for the craftsmen it may be a careful balance between observing an art and growing a business. But if all goes well with Design Bank, fabric weavers in Odisha, as well as in other Indian states, may one day find themselves making the critical leap onto the global runway. 

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