How UDD took flight by giving wings to rural artisans - the story of Yuti Shah and Atul EdwardAmruta Dongray
Involved in reviving dying traditional weaves and designs Yuti Shah (30) and Atul Edward (46) of UDD started working closely with rural artisans in 2011. Since then, it’s been five successful years of blending folk arts and crafts with trendy Indo-Western styles that continue to infuse novel perspectives into ‘ethno-chic’. A women’s clothing brand, UDD, which represents freedom, is the very embodiment of the intrinsically spirited woman, says Yuti. Apart from being a fashion brand, UDD also provides a platform to regional artists whose work gets translated into wearable art.
It was on one of their trips into rural India that UDD was born. Yuti, a graphic designer and Atul, a sportsman, were taken in by the different Indian techniques of printing and weaving. Though Yuti and Atul have no formal training in textiles, wanting to explore the fascinating world of hand-weaves, the couple decided to live with Madhubani artists in Bihar. A close look at the precarious existence of the Madhubani art-form and its artists gave rise to an enterprise that hasn’t looked back since.
From working with Warli artists in Maharashtra to Madhubani in Bihar, Yuti and Atul are currently working with the Shibori dyeing artists from Bhuj in Gujarat. Through this enterprise, the couple has generated employment for both rural men and women artisans. UDD not has only created work for the local artisans, but has engaged them till the final process, so that the artisans understand how their traditional art-forms are being used and converted into modern art prints and contemporary cuts. Yuti says,“The artists themselves fall in love with their art all over again. It is a great interaction and a learning process for us as well as the artists and weavers.”
Their interaction with Indian artisans have made the duo realise that while the popular belief that local artisans are not ‘with it’ exists, the ground reality is quite far from the belief. Atul shared his surprise with us-
“I was amazed to see how forward village artisans are! They understand modernisation and are willing to move with times. They are open to learning and evolving their work. Almost all artisans are connected on WhatsApp.”
For both Yuti and Atul, respect for local artisans grows with each trip they make to different parts of rural India. To continue engaging in work with passion even when much recognition doesn’t come your way, is a lesson this couple has learnt from their close association with the artisans.“Uddiction”
UDD has an online presence through their website which services the Indian and international market. Yuti and Atul also participate in select exhibitions that are held across the country. The duo plan to retail their products in stores soon.
Over the last five years, the duo has managed to gather a customer base of about 700 domestic and international clients, with 40 percent customers coming back to shop at UDD. Gayathri Kunabalasingam, an avid supporter of the brand, calls her loyalty to UDD an “uddiction”.
With the launch of every range, a unique style of fusion is brought to fore. UDD’s popular ranges so far have been Baraka, Udd Panchi, Mehendi Manchali, Vrindavan, Warli Gatha, Patchwork Range, Totem Tandav and Mahotsav. The duo’s passion is evident in their collection of sarees, lehengas, duppattas, skirts and dresses. UDD experiments with varied fabric such as chanderi, cotton, khadi, silk and blends.
Every range that UDD designs involves working with three or four rural artisan families that have expertise in the art form that is being showcased. Each family typically has four craftsmen. In Bhuj, UDD has tied up with a known artist who employs more than 300 local artisans.UDD is currently being run through the couple’s personal funds. Yuti and Atul started with a capital of Rs 3,00,000 and have seen a growth of 10 percent in sales every year. Their turnover has touched Rs 50,00,000 as of the last financial year. With no external funding, UDD faces challenges every now and then for sustenance and the duo are in search of a financial partner. The couple has just started working with urban artists as well, based out of Singapore, Seoul and London.
Yuti and Atul want to establish an ethnic, organic community of artists and weavers from rural and urban India. While other social enterprises like Bengaluru-based MITHILAsmita and Guwahati-based Mazankari, along with labels such as Deepika Govind and Arpita Mehta, promote traditional Indian crafts, UDD is firmly placed to create its own history by fusing the old with the new, gracefully.