The woman behind zameeni!
Navi Mumbai
Ethical | Ethnic | Exclusive

The woman behind zameeni – Mrs. Manisha Jhamb

Fashion today not only reflects an era’s culture but helps shape it, too. It gives us the freedom to express ourselves through clothing and accessories. Manisha Jhamb, the curator of Zameeni, grew up adoring her grandmother’s 6-yard elegance. Even though she belonged to a Punjabi family, she saw women in her family drape sarees rather than wearing traditional Punjabi suits. Fascinated by it, Manisha developed a flair for fabrics and refers to sarees as ‘ six yards of beauty.’’ When asked Manisha if she always wanted to be a designer, her prompt response was “I’m not a designer but a Curator of fabrics.” She states, she always loved sarees but curating a variety of fabrics and sourcing authentic work has brought passion to her. Narrating the start of zameeni , Manisha says it was by chance that she took up curating sarees. It all started when her Doctor friend, who shares the love for sarees, stated she was bored & together they started research on fabrics. Manisha with a concept of Make in India proceeded ahead with the research and selected weavers across areas. She started zameeni in August 2014 by inviting her circle of acquaintances to her home and she sold her first saree & dupatta there.

What does a saree mean to you?

‘ A perfect blend of elegance and attitude’, said Manisha passionately. The elegance aspect grew as Manisha grew up in awe watching her grandmother in simple sarees. The love for it was deep-rooted and later came to be known as zameeni.

How is working in fashion different today than from when you started out?

The positive changes in the industry are the variations and varieties of fabrics, designs and techniques, says Manisha. She emphasized the negative impacts of the power loom and how the handloom industry has taken a backseat. The rapid and vast production of power loom has consumed the market and has threatened the livelihood of many handloom workers. The handloom weavers are shifting to other industries and the original art is disappearing. ‘zameeni is Handloom’ says Manisha firmly also stating that they are working closely with weavers and bringing awareness about the craft.

Tell us about zameeni. How have you evolved over time?

zameeni is all about promoting the weaver's craft and bringing the traditional style into today’s world. To Manisha selling a product is not important, selling a story is. She focuses on curating authentic styles and traditional crafts from all over India. The weavers of zameeni have been associated with Manisha from the start and they share a strong relationship. She focuses on the weavers plight and assures them the best working environment. ‘The weavers have asked not to compromise over the cost of the product as the efforts into making a single saree cannot be bargained’, stated Manisha. Hence with a clear intention, zameeni is focused on being transparent about the cost with their customers. Owing to it to the weavers, zameeni has now evolved into an exclusive brand. On being asked how zameeni is different from other brands, Manisha says, ‘ zameeni is zameeni – rooted & exclusive.’ Further stated, she was never into competition and was always clear on exclusivity. zameeni focuses mainly on tribal arts and their sourced fabrics. The current collection is using gheecha, Tussar and other types of regional silks (apart from southern silks). The recent tribal sourced fabric Manisha is working on is made by vagabonds from Karnataka. They travelled from Punjab, then travelled to Rajasthan and have now settled in Karnataka. The designs are focused on simple embroidery work which is a fusion of the three places. One of the current problems zameeni is facing is sourcing different fabrics from various weavers around India. ‘The little or no knowledge of customers in identifying the authenticity of the fabric / work is a pressing problem in the industry right now’, states Manisha. This eventually affects the sale of the authentic products which then hamper the livelihoods of the weavers. Manisha has a clear concept that she doesn’t bargain with her weavers and she doesn’t prefer people bargaining with her.

What does ‘zameeni for cause’ mean to you?

Manisha positions herself to be a social activist, so as to that her husband has started believing that she isn’t commercial anymore but a social worker only, says Manisha laughingly. It is very important for her to be connected with a cause thus zameeni is connected to its roots. ‘One who is connected to its roots is automatically connected to a cause’, states Manisha. zameeni is connected to different causes at different levels. The paper bags for zameeni are made by differently abled children providing them a source of income. zameeni has started a NGO called ‘mind Buddies’ which helps with mental health. It was recently recognized by the Govt.

What lies ahead for zameeni in the future?

‘I want to see zameeni on the top as I have connected it to multiple causes and want to give shade to the causes which are not that well looked after’, states Manisha passionately. For her, top doesn’t mean having multiple & big outlets everywhere. It means to become strong enough to provide support to the causes & people connected to it. zameeni is coming up with a new line of jewellery made out of semi-precious stones & pure silver. The stones used are the by-product small pieces left after moulding the stones. They are also looking forward to ceramics products. Zameen means ‘earth’ thus zameeni literally means ‘the one grown out of earth’. zameeni is coming up with ‘Ethereal’ online store for wooden carvings. On being asked for a few tips for women entrepreneurs trying to make it in a big competitive world, Manisha advised them to be focused, be clear & be transparent with the people you work with. She asks entrepreneurs to be consistent in their working style without competing with others. Manisha ended the session not before emphasizing on being supportive towards the underprivileged ones and not just helping them once but to be a support to their growth.