Treasures from the Northeast

Text: Anusha, from TLJ
Pictures courtesy: NEP

This edit note comes two days before release, from a quiet café in Hyderabad that finally let me come up for air with my thoughts. The city of our growing up years has changed so much—almost reflected in how the quiet airiness of the boxy, cotton salwar-kameez of the 90's from our homes seems to have given way to the quiet of boxy, khadi dresses at chic cafés today.

That side note of nostalgia aside, through this issue, you will see that we’ve tried to bring together the stories behind textiles and fashion in a few different ways: through the fashion of the common man, via a witty comment on the industry from our resident cartoonist, through a food blogger’s conversations with professional Chefs about their choice of work-wear, and some more.


While we want to acknowledge that this issue, like one or two others earlier, has come together like a patchwork quilt that almost never got made—some contributors dropped out last minute, but yet others came on-board just few days before release to produce flourishes of colour without missing a beat— there’s one story that I’d like to personally tell. And that's one about the latest collection of the North East Project (NEP). The initiative, which brings the beautiful weaves of India’s North Eastern states together with avant-garde design, has most recently worked with the label of a Mizo designer based in Aizawl, Hannah Khiangte. Hannah’s brand, House of Hannah, is "a fusion ensemble exploring the confluence between urban and ethnic styling, with a revivalist focus towards Mizo cultural evolution," as per the NEP social media pages. She integrates ethnic textiles into contemporary wear with great skill.  

If TLJ survives on love, goodwill and tons of serendipity, then the participation of Harjoth Singh’s NEP in issue 11 is one of the best examples of that. This began— like all great things do, of course— when I was scrolling through Instagram. I barely glanced at a pair of black mules (which NEP had made in collaboration with clothing label Jarem), but knew immediately that I just needed to have them. I ordered them immediately. 

But then, my shipment got lost in transit. 

That was when Harjoth and I met— over email. Just under a week, a pair of mules, a few texts with V and a few more emails with Harjoth later, TLJ was able to get in the voice of a Mizo weaver who worked on the NEP x HK collection in this issue.
David is a weaver from Thenzawl, a town in central Mizoram I hadn't heard of, before Harjoth told us about it. This idyllic place, which is very close to waterfalls, caves and deer parks, has about 8000 people living there— but it is also over 260 km away from the nearest train station, greatly restricting mobility and the life there. 


Pictures from Thenzwal


Edited bits of our conversation with David:


TLJ: What is your earliest memory of weaving?
David: Weaving has been our livelihood, even before I was born. I think I was ten when I first sat next to mom and helped her in every step of weaving and ended up learning the simplest step. 

TLJ: Is the weaving style between the states of the North East very different? Do some states have overlaps in terms of style and look?
The Mizo weaving style is different from other states, and we are proud of it. I was once told that no other state can weave handlooms in our style. 


TLJ: Is there a design template that you use?
As in various other parts the North East, nature and animist motifs played a large role in the spiritual life of the pre-Christianity societies. So in some cases like when making a flower pattern or to weave in an animal motif, weavers have templates to work with.


TLJ: Tell us about your town.
Thenzawl, is situated in the centre of Mizoram and most people here are engaged in weaving. Weaving is the livelihood for most of my family. I will pass it on to my children too as it is what my parents have been in love with, and I don’t want it to stop with me.

TLJ: How long will it take for a lay person to learn the basics of this weaving style?
It takes about 3 to 6 months.

TLJ: Do you weave according to the instructions of the designers or is there a different way that you collaborate?
Weavers are mostly guided by the designer who makes the patterns and styles based on the market demand. But sometimes, some of them also take risks in making new designs.

TLJ: What is a favourite piece of garment/ weave that you own? 
Puanchei is our favourite garment. It is our traditional dress, which is worn during weddings and festivals. It’s a treasure (for me), as it shows what tribe we belong to.

Some of the pieces from the nep X Hannah Khiangte collaboration
Shot by Roanna Rahman for NEP


NEP's collections are available on their website.