While working on his final year project at Craft Development Institute, Srinagar with the master soznikaars of Kashmir, Wajahat Rather, Founder and Head Designer of Raffughar, promised himself that whenever he has his own fashion label, he would dedicate it to the darners of Kashmir. To put it simply in Wajahat’s words, “Their forefathers were raffoogars or darners who would mend clothes- a skill passed on through generations”.
Raffughar is built on the philosophy that, traditional crafts are sophisticated and have refined over the years. These authentic hand techniques have evolved over a long time and require a proper direction in order to get contemporised in accordance with today’s market demands.
“We enjoy working with the limitations of craft and embrace its imperfection and simplicity. We intend to revive the traditional and natural processes of craft-making in the contemporary global market scenario,” Wajahat told Apparel Resources in an exclusive interview.
Rallying forward with DNC as their motto – which essentially combines Design, Nature and Crafts, in order to yield a meaningful whole, Raffughar is an initiative that takes into account the traditional sensibilities of the age-old crafts of India.
What started in 2013 with Namda rugs and Pashmina stoles, has today diversified into apparel for both men and women.
Prior to his course in Textile Design at NID Ahmedabad, Wajahat studied Painting – an experience that has positively impacted his creative process at Raffughar. “While I was studying painting, I felt the objects I created lacked function. In the art school, it was more about aesthetics and philosophy, I wanted to create products which could serve human need,” Wajahat explained, adding, “It has partly to do with my innate curiosity and partly to do with the fact that I hail from a multicultural background. I’m interested in behaviour – in how different people think depending on where they are from, and creating a dialogue with people that are different from me. The coexistence of a multitude of cultures definitely opens my mind.”
Kashmir, where Wajahat hails from, is not only known for its wonderful climate conditions and natural beauty, but also for its exquisite textile crafts. If we were to look up history, Kashmir was situated on one of the many caravan routes belonging to the ancient times, routes that connected to and created the ‘Silk route’.
“The land-linked intensive trade routes between China and Central Asia, saw people of various groups, from both the sides travelling across vast distances and engaging in trade. Through the years, many such groups chose to settle in the Valley, and have gradually come to be known as residents of Kashmir,” Wajahat elucidated.
Wajahat fondly recalls his school days, majority of which he spent observing his neighbour Ab Gani Padder, stitching Gabbas. “My father owned a Kaleenwaan (carpet workshop) when I was a kid,” Wajahat said adding, “Unfortunately, he had to shift to a Government job as the craft experienced a decline in demand.” But nonetheless, textiles have played a vital part in the daily rhythms of Wajahat growing up, something that helped him in taking a decision to further his education in textiles at NID.
Upon the recommendation of his mentor at the Institute of Fine Arts in Jammu, Padamshri Rajinder Kumar Tiku, who recognised Wajahat’s scientific approach towards fine arts, Wajahat filled out an application form for NID. What he terms as a ‘culture shock’ as it was the first time he was flung outside his comfort zone, NID ensured that Wajahat became sensitive to the things around him.
“The aptitude and attitude of a person changes when you are allowed to question everything and think anew about every aspect of design and life. I feel NID has made sure that its students become good humans before becoming designers,” Wajahat stated and then went on to say further “There is always a concern for the society and the people we work with. The institute has nurtured us in a way that we follow ethical and fair trade practices.”
Products and pricing
Raffughar caters to luxury apparel for both men and women along with a wide variety of pashminas in neutral colours. Their staple range, which comprises of shirts, kurtas and trousers made of handspun handwoven khadi, for both men and women are priced between Rs. 7,000 and Rs. 14,000 whilst their signature exclusive styles which feature garments inspired from museum pieces and traditional costumes of Kashmir such as the pheran, are priced between Rs.18,000 and Rs. 24,000. These styles include varieties of pheran kurta, pheran jackets, and are made using cotton silk fabric which is handwoven by the weavers of Chanderi and West Bengal. Exclusive styles also feature androgynous pieces.
The label has priced its trousers between Rs.10,500 and Rs. 14,500; jackets between Rs. 15,000 and Rs. 38,000; and their pashmina stoles are priced Rs.15,000 onwards.
Brand USP and ideology
Following a zero waste policy, Raffughar is founded on the belief that traditional crafts are sophisticated and have a potential to be adapted into contemporary contexts, constantly delving into the thought of finding a place for the classical Kashmir in contemporary times.
The label draws inspiration for its unique silhouettes from one-of-a-kind museum piece and its pieces are dominated by a neutral colour palette which is inspired from nature.
“We have recently started exploring colours such as peach and other natural dyed hues such as indigo, pomegranate and madder in our work,” Wajahat highlighted, further adding, “In our collection Dastavaiz, we have used block prints inspired from Urdu calligraphy and in another collection named Parvaaz, we worked with block motifs inspired from the birds of Kashmir.”
An understanding of demography and constraints of a craft can yield in more possibilities to explore a craft at length. Raffughar believes that crafts are stories of yesterday and can be saved to posterity if design intervention is intelligent.
“I value craft for informing my relationship with materials. I value knowing the touch, the weight, the hand, the smell and the colour of the materials. Craft develops your ability to work with your hands and transforms the knowledge in your body of how you play with the materials. This is an intimate knowledge and can be fun. For me, working this way makes me very aware of scale because using hands and mind together to construct something, ensures that the scale is always in relation to the body,” Wajahat said
According to him, “It is very interesting to observe how craftsmen take inspiration from nature around them rather than looking up any forecast magazines. The flora and fauna is visible in all the splendid textile traditions.”
Raffughar is known for its authentic hand techniques that go beyond the limitations of craft – where every collection starts with an in-depth research of the inspiration at hand.
Commenting on the same, Wajahat said, “There is a lot of brainstorming. We start out with creating samples, all the while looking at the commercial feasibility of the work. Then we decide on the techniques, fabrics and aesthetics that would do justice to the collection. We don’t like to follow the trends; we work on classic pieces which have a longer life and deeper meaning than being merely a piece of clothing.”
The label draws inspiration from nature, culture, and heritage and further uses them as contemporary design elements. Kashmir’s rich ensemble of traditional silhouettes and Wajahat’s own interest in exploring different dimensions of the Himalayan region’s motifs and calligraphy are evident in the collections. A juxtaposition of the past and the present reflects in the work.
“Our work can be better defined as ‘Museum to Barcode’. I believe that design does not happen in isolation, it happens through a synergetic and collaborative approach. I want to collaborate with people and give due credits to the artisans and skilled people who are a very important part of our design thinking and process.” Wajahat said.
Crafts and techniques
The label collaborates with the soznikaars of Kashmir, weavers of Chanderi, and with weavers from West Bengal for muslin. The brand works with artisans on the root level, where both the artisan and the designer partner in order to ensure that the design process may yield into something sensible.
Raffughar essentially champions sozni embroidery from Kashmir, hand pleating inspired by the Khatamband craft of Kashmir, block printing techniques and also creates embroidery out of fabric waste.
“Our artisans are based in parts of West Bengal, Baghalpur, Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh, and Srinagar in Jammu & Kashmir and our design team comprises of tailors, embroiderers, our Assistant Designer and interns,” Wajahat revealed.
Manufacturing and sourcing
Raffughar’s clothing is entirely manufactured in-house but they outsource their weaving, dyeing and embroidery. Their design studio is based in South Delhi.
“Being a textile designer myself, my approach has always been towards creating things from scratch; hence we prefer creating fabrics on our own,” Wajahat told Apparel Resources adding, “However, we do outsource certain materials as well. We experiment with a lot of recycled yarns, waste from our previous collections and try to come out with something extraordinary.”
Raffughar aims to source raw materials that are completely sustainable. For example, they try to experiment with recycled materials sourced from various places such as Panipat, and with Australian Merino wool.
Since the label works closely with handloom weavers and artisans, they prepare their textiles two seasons in advance, and their production is done in small batches unlike the process followed by brands that deal in mass produced garments.
An ideology that relies on creating one-of-a-kind classic piece, pushes Raffughar to ditch the concept of seasons. The label tries to minimise excess stock in order to maintain exclusive pieces that require intense man hours as they are completely handcrafted.
Raffughar currently retails through stores that share a similar ideology and vibe. They have collaborated with Paro by Goodearth, Vayu Design for Living, Goodearth, Vana – The Retreat, Cult Modern Cochin and Tatacliq as their other retail partners. Internationally, Raffughar is also selling with a few stores based out of Los Angeles & California.
The aftermath of Covid-19 on fashion
According to Wajahat, “The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the fashion and textile world in a big way. The pandemic has served as a huge wakeup call for both us as consumers and for the industry as a whole. The threat that this pandemic holds over our heads is a call to action for the fashion industry to slow down, move away from mass production and change direction, before an even larger problem is at hand. We have already seen numerous global store closures, drop in stock prices, cancelled fashion shows and postponed events. A huge reshuffling will occur, restarting the entire industry. To stay afloat, brands will need to be savvy and sustainable. That leaves us and our own creativity, cradled by cabin fever. Fashion could return to its basic beauty, an expression of individuality. And in the process, we can hope that our earth will be able to heal some more. I think creating less and making it long-lasting could be effective in future. Building a trust through ethical practices and fair trade becomes imperative in post-Covid times.”