Mala Sinha, Coming Full Circle

Becoming a craft entrepreneur after 40 years of academic innings was like home coming. The seeds of art and craft were planted in my mind in girlhood by my grandmother, mother and aunts who were talented artists and adept in crafts.

Mala Sinha - profile photo

I grew up in an indulgent environment watching them weave magic with yarns, fabric, paints and had always dreamt as a young girl, to set up a craft studio when I grew up. But destiny dealt a very different hand, and that was, to be a teacher. Never a naysayer, I played the hand sincerely and enjoyed the game since teaching, researching and writing came naturally to me, and I have basked for years in the university ambience and the love of my students.

But dreams don’t die! They stay with you always, prod, and remind you, about what needs to be done. And therefore, soon after my superannuation (2020), I set up Buna’wat with the aim to produce knitted, crocheted and embroidered garments and home linen that were stylish, chic and aesthetic. Creative work requires a period of incubation - to ideate and meditate on the topic of interest - and the lockdown during the Covid19 pandemic gave me the time I needed. I invested in a studio workshop, purchased vast quantities of variety of yarns, the best work tools and lovely pattern books and was ready to begin.

But finding the right skills for Buna’wat was not easy ( that’s another story that deserves to be told some day ), but soon I had eight talented women from my neighbourhood who could knit , embroider and crochet and they became my co crafters. These were girls and women from lower and poor strata of society and three of them could not read or write but their skills were top class. Each had a unique story of deprivation and heart break to tell that gave me lessons in leadership and life skills which theories and models in books never do. Through Buna’wat I have stepped out of my gated and privileged community and am beginning to see the world as it is - and not through the lens of conceit that affluence makes you wear.

The Zen masters say when you do manual work you become mindful, and all craft is working with hands. For years the fingers that were tapping computer keys to churn out abstract and even abstruse research papers, are now dextrously holding hooks and needles and creating exquisite fabric and lace. I realised in academics, knowledge leaps out of books and journals or from the teachers lips to reach a mind , and then you are never sure what becomes of it . But art and craft embodies knowledge in away, like a dance, a tune, a film or an artefact that you can touch , see, feel and experience with all your senses. The joy of manual work is infinitely more than of cerebral – this I have come to realise.

Then ‘’The India-UK Creative Industries at 75: Challenges and Opportunities’’ project happened. I was invited to participate in the project as a fashion artist and inadvertently I got affirmation that I was doing something right, and felt I had been formally inducted into the world of creative arts and fashion. It gave me a high to know that while Bun’wat was embedded in my local community through her women crafters, it is also now integrated internationally with fashion.

I had to collaborate with two fashion designers from Birmingham University located in UK and jointly we had to produce a short creative outcome over a period of two months as part of the project. Carolyn and Vaishali you have left me speechless with your generosity, when you accepted a newbie like me in the team so warmly. I have loved every moment of our thinking together and synergising on each other’s strengths and competencies to produce the beautiful small book -The Local Manifesto.

May we take forward our vision of future of fashion enshrined in The Local Manifesto by all that we do; and save the local heritage of art , craft and people and invent solutions that makes fashion artistic and not destructive.

Mala Sinha