Take A Journey Into Odia Culture With Label Boito's Handcrafted Textiles

Boito is joining a growing league of intention-lead brands that are focused on the preservation of indigenous textile crafts and knowledge.
Boito is joining a growing league of intention-lead brands that are focused on the preservation of indigenous textile crafts and knowledge. Boito

“Once upon a time, Sadabha - the ancient maritime merchants of Odisha whose craft mastery was unparalleled, loaded their boats with the best their land had to offer, including intricately woven textiles and would take to the seas to foreign lands for trade and cultural exchange. This boat was revered and the Boito Bandana maritime festival was in honour of these voyages. It carried those who were traversing the world to bring back good fortune," Richa Maheshwari told us, as we began our foray into her exhibit at Kalabhoomi in Bhubaneswar. She stands behind a patchworked swan-shaped replica of a boat that bears varying patterns and sits proudly atop a hanging plank as she tells us this story. 

This is how one is welcomed into the world of her fashion label. Taking a story-first approach, Boito by Richa Maheshwari forays deep into the depths of Odisha and its many varied communities, all of which are inexplicably woven together by their collective craft skills. Maheshwari’s passion for her native culture and the work that she is doing is something that shines through every story that she shares while she takes us through the Boito Exhibit.

The Genesis of Boito

After working nearly two decades at a leading MNC, Richa Maheshwari, an erstwhile product engineer, began a personal journey into her native culture and identity. Her exploration led to immense learning and striking personal experiences about the cultural tapestry of Odisha’s textiles. She refers to this experience as a homecoming.

“I saw firsthand how textile-making is a central focus in indigenous family life here, and how methods and motifs have endured for generations. But despite the magic in their textiles, these weavers struggle to make ends meet.”

This is what inspired her to reach out to Bangalore-based Anshu Arora, a veteran multidisciplinary design practitioner in her own right. The team slowly started coming together as they found synergy in their purpose and started working with the weavers of Odisha from across the length and breadth of the state. 

Navigating the Depths: Boito's Journey into Odisha's Communities

From naming their brand as a nod to the aforementioned story of the Sadabha’s journey to faraway lands to preserving the legacy of the Ringa loincloth that is created by the forest-dwelling, matriarchal Bonda tribe, Boito is joining a growing league of intention-lead brands that are focused on the preservation of indigenous textile crafts and knowledge.

This writer, along with a group of other journalists and industry professionals were invited to the capital city of Odisha to truly immerse ourselves in the culture. As a passion project, Maheshwari had stories aplenty to share as she took us through the exhibit. From casual conversations about paranormal apparitions that are prevalent in Odisha to those about the laid-back nature of the state where most people take a post-lunch break nap to reset, we were essentially given a crash course in Odia culture. 

Craftsmanship Chronicles: Stories from the Boito Exhibit at Kalabhoomi

The trip began with a visit to the aforementioned Boito Exhibit at Bhubhaneshwar’s prime hub for art and cultural events — Kalabhoomi. Taking one through her journey where she discovered the varied cultures that exist within her home state, Richa Maheshwari put together an immersive exhibit. Each segment featured details of the traditional approach to the textile craft that is native to a particular craft cluster or locale in Odisha. But they were also juxtaposed with Label Boito’s conscientiously crafted apparel. 

As we were taken through the exhibit, we were introduced to the Padmashree award-winning couple Gobardhan and Jema Panika from the Mirgan community, who are master weavers of the renowned Kotpad handloom textiles. The heavyweight un-dyed cotton with designs in hues of red, maroon, and brown features motifs inspired by nature and culture. The Panikas told us about the time-intensive work that goes into crafting each piece — from meticulously processing the cotton to making natural dyes from the roots of the native Aal tree. The Boito rendition of this textile is a beautifully structured long jacket that showcases the traditional motifs while remaining a piece that can be added to any contemporary wardrobe. 

In moving further, we were told stories of how nature shaped identities and cultural objects such as textiles created by the communities within the state. From the Ringas (a loincloth made from Kerang tree bark fibres that are woven on rudimentary looms) crafted by the Bonda tribe to the Kerangs worn by the Gadaba women, they each had their approach to crafting textiles that served their unique lifestyles best and feature motifs that are relevant to their setting.

The Kapadagandha shawl crafted by the Dongria Kondh tribe that reside in the Niyamgiris and worship the mountain god Niyam Raja depicted mountain ranges through triangular motifs. The fabric was converted into a cropped Kimono by the Boito team — a chic but neutral piece that highlights the mastery of the textile. Patterns that depicted bales of turtles or schools of fish were common in textiles crafted by those who lived close to the coast such as those from the Nuapatna craft cluster. For those who were landlocked, motifs of elephants were aplenty. Capturing the plurality that exists within the state, but also their unifying love for craft and textiles, the Boito Exhibit has since travelled to Mumbai’s 47A Gallery and has been experienced and praised by many a craft lover in the city. 

Boito is joining a growing league of intention-lead brands that are focused on the preservation of indigenous textile crafts and knowledge.
Attend A Design Show Bringing Odisha's Timeless Textile Legacy To The Heart of Mumbai

The Creative Identity of Boito 

From capturing the beauty of Khandua silk in simple tops to pasapalli fabric co-ords that feature paasa motifs to crafting crop tops and patchworked slips that feature mythical Odia figures, to the aforementioned jackets and cropped kimonos, the select but inspired pieces from the Boito fashion label truly reflects the founder’s deep reverence and appreciation for her native culture and her many learnings from the people that she has met along the way. 

The creative director and designer Anshu Arora's prior experience as a multidisciplinary artist who has worked with artisan groups and organisations truly helped bring the creative vision to life. Working with Photographer Syed Zubair also allowed the brand to distill the essence of Boito with a documentary-like approach that captured the sense of the communities that they work alongside. In the mean time, Anand Naik has documented the story of Boito on video and has created an indepth documentary of its genesis that was shown at the exhibit in Kalabhoomi and is being shared by the brand in parts as reels. In addtion, they journied back to where the pieces were woven and captured Goa-based model Varsha Gopall wearing their attire and spending time with the artisans and craftspeople themsleves.

L: Vessels with tied yarns  being dyed/soaked out in the sun
R: Sarees wrapped around bamboo trunks and being dried
L: Vessels with tied yarns being dyed/soaked out in the sun R: Sarees wrapped around bamboo trunks and being driedCaptured by the writer

Collaboration with Artisans: A Legacy Closely Entwined with Daily Life

Our journey to Odisha didn't simply end with the museum and exhibit visit. Rather, we were invited to witness the intricacies of the creation of Odia textile and the wealth of generational knowledge and craftsmanship that contributes to every single item they weave. In visiting the Nuapatna village, a couple of hours outside Bhubaneswar, we were given an up-close look at how the textile was closely entwined with their lives. Every house was designed to accommodate the need to craft intricate textiles and fabrics

When Maheshwari travelled to Nuapatna to source textiles once the idea for Boito began to take form, she met Lakshmidhara Guin, a weaver from there. The GI-tagged small town in the district of Cuttack was known for its silk sarees and textiles made using the Khandua technique. While he was initially sceptical of working with the team, in due time, he recognised their earnest commitment to the textile craft. As is put best by the team:

“Boito’s dedication is towards preserving and modernising Odisha textiles without compromising on the essence of wisdom of generations of craftsmanship.” 

The weavers of Nuapatna town practise the bandha/ikat techniques of resist-dyeing silk yarns, with an astonishing intersection of complex maths. This time and labour-intensive process is a way of life whose presence can be noted in each house in Nuapatna. As soon as one enters the locale, one might see gorgeous sarees in a myriad of hues and patterns, each wrapped around bamboo trunks and being dried, with someone turning it every few minutes. As you traverse further, some women sit in their kitchens or work areas, spooling silkworm pods into threads, other houses featured frames in their living rooms — while Bollywood songs played on in the background from someone's phone, the men of the house sat cross-legged on the floor, tying threads and knots onto the yarns in unique patterns at breakneck speed for purposes of resist-dyeing.

Other homes were designed to accommodate large looms that took up the whole space. There were even rectangular pits built into their floors where the warp yarn is raised to form a shed through which the filling yarn can be inserted to form the weft. 

From 100 metres of yarn being tied for resist-dyeing over conversations in the village clearing to the vessels with tied yarns that were being dyed out in the sun, it's clear that textile culture is thriving here as you walk through the village. While Boito is creating luxury attire that preserves traditional techniques and motifs, they are also making minor changes to better cater to their audience. The artisans from all the communities present have become active collaborators who recognise the vision that Boito is working towards. Lakshmidhara has become a key part of the Boito journey. The team takes joy in the fact he felt creatively spurred to accept the challenges in realising their sartorial vision and that he's delivering in spades today. 

R: Dyed fabric being tied for further pattern making
L: Traditional Odiya meal
R: Dyed fabric being tied for further pattern making L: Traditional Odiya mealCaptured by the writer

The Palpable Sense of Community in Odisha

The sense of community is something that Richa Maheshwari mentioned multiple times throughout our conversations. This is something that one can experience while interacting with the people of Nuapatna, they welcomed us into their homes, showed us their labour of love, and offered us the best of their food. Served to us in a plate made from leaves (they were sustainable way before the wider public were and continue to be) and treated us to a spread that included everything from delectable mushroom masala, varying sabjis, succulent chicken curry, and even a flavourful chutney that included leaves of lemon tree and assorted vegetables .

From their mastery of textiles to the sense of community, it is understandable that someone like Richa Maheshwari who began her journey on a personal note, felt inspired to do what she could to bring the craft of her state to a much bigger platform.

A Slow Approach : Boito's Vision for Preserving Odia Textile Heritage

In talking about the business aspects of the brand, Richa was steadfast in her perspective.

“We are essentially building a boat as it floats. Scaling and sales are not our prime intent. This is exactly why we are taking a story-first approach with Boito. We’re sharing the mastery of Odia textiles and the heritage and influences that have shaped it. We hope with this, we can reach the right audience who appreciates the effort that goes into each piece and why it is a luxury item that can essentially become an heirloom.” 

Through conversations with Maheshwari regarding her approach with Boito, witnessing the effort that goes into creating the fabrics in Nuapatna and experiencing the sense of community and generational knowledge that is closely entwined with life in Odisha, one can understand the need for slow, conscientious brands like Boito, who are led by those who can help preserve indigenous craft and knowledge without too many interventions. The purpose of preservation and elevation is to retain the legacy of traditional motifs and techniques.

While the slow approach might not be for everyone, for those that value owning fashion that is steeped in legacy and story, in Maheshwari’s own words,

“Boito is a brand that is building a collaborative platform that empowers the artisans of Odisha, without disrupting their unhurried way of life.”

Photographed by Syed Zubair

A Testament To The Value of Odia Textile Legacy

As our immersive trip ended, as if by some wonderful timing, Ahana Manasai, a friend from Pondicherry University who is from Odisha and currently works as a professor in Bhubaneswar stopped by. As I talked to her about Boito and the work that brought me to her home state, over a sweet treat of Chenna Poda, she recounted stories that she’s heard growing up, “I remember hearing from my mother about how a few generations ago textiles were used as collateral for loans in our native place. The intricacy and value of Odia textile was so much so, that it held as much value for our people as did gold or property.” This conversation was a testament to the value of the textile legacy that weaves through the hills, mountains and coasts of Odisha.

While the wider public is only beginning to discover Odisha’s textile legacy, that goes much beyond the well-known Ikat or Sambalpuri, Boito as a story-led brand is paving the way towards balancing the preservation of traditional knowledge with both integrity and forward-thinking design.